There’s some Amazin' in Tampa Bay

Oct 21, 2008 5:06 PM

The 3-2 Pitch by Andy Iskoe |

Amazing. Amazing. Yes, Amazing.

That’s about the only way to describe the 2008 American League pennant winning Tampa Bay Rays. Comparisons to the Amazing New York Mets are very much in order.

It has been nearly 40 years since the woeful Mets rose from oblivion to become World Series champions. Now, the Rays are looking to accomplish the same feat.

Consider that prior to this season the Tampa Bay franchise had never won more than 70 games in its 10-year existence, finishing last nine times.

We will see if 1969 repeats itself in the World Series as the Rays face the Philadelphia Phillies who easily defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers to win the NLCS in five games.

Tampa Bay has been installed as a -135 favorite to win the Series and there is justification. First, the American League has again been the stronger league this season, going 149-103 against National League in interleague play.

Of the 14 AL teams only Cleveland (6-12) and Toronto (8-10) had losing records in interleague play. Even lowly Seattle, 61-101 for the season, played .500 ball (9-9) against the NL.

Tampa Bay was 12-6 in interleague, including a three-game sweep of the Cubs. The Rays were 6-3 both at home and on the road.

Philadelphia was just 4-11 against AL teams, failing to win any of their five series. The Phillies were swept on the road by the Angels and also lost two of three in Boston.

There actually might be some value in playing Philadelphia as many sports books have significant liability should Tampa Bay win the World Series at odds of between 150 and 250-1 that existed prior to the start of the season.

The Rays have three outstanding starting pitchers in Scott Kazmir, James Shields and the MVP of the ALCS, Matt Garza. The bullpen has generally been solid although it was shaky against Boston. But the performance of highly prized rookie David Price in Game 7 against the Red Sox gives the Rays much cause for optimism both in this Series and in the future.

Philadelphia has perhaps the best starter in the Series in lefty Cole Hamels, who is slated to start Game 1 against Kazmir. In fact, Hamels has opened as a -110 favorite in the opening game Wednesday. The total for the Series is a relatively low 7½, suggesting a pitchers’ duel.

It’s tempting to make a case for the underdog Phillies. They do have more experience in the playoffs as a result of having made the post season last season. They have a solid offense with the power of Ryan Howard to compliment the solid bats of Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins and Pat Burrell.

Philadelphia has a solid second starter in Brett Myers and cagey veteran lefty Jamie Moyer in the third spot. The bullpen has been very effective with closer Brad Lidge a perfect 41 for 41 in save opportunities in the regular season and he continued that performance in the playoffs.

If you believe in the oft quoted adage that "God looks out for orphans and bookmakers" then you will play the Phillies at +115 to +120 to bail out the sports books for their Tampa Bay liabilities. But given the above cited results that show there is still a significant gap between the AL and NL it can be argued that the Phillies should be getting a much higher price, in the neighborhood of +150.

Philadelphia’s goal should be to come away with at least a split in the first two games in Tampa Bay. Game 1 will be key. If Tampa is able to defeat Hamels and the Phillies they may win this series in quick order. But if the Phillies are able to win that first game then the pressure will be on the Rays to avoid a loss in Game 2 and heading to Philly down 0-2.

In a sense, if you like Tampa to win the World Series you might consider a play on the Rays at even money to win Game 1. Tampa has been resilient all season and played far beyond their youth.

The Rays have failed to fold on numerous occasions both throughout the regular season and again in the playoffs, most notably following their blown 7-0 lead in the Game 5 loss at Boston.

Look for Tampa Bay to win the World Series in at most 6 games.

Tampa is playable as underdogs, especially in Philadelphia against Moyer and fourth starter Joe Blanton. The games in Philadelphia should be high-scoring with the over playable at totals of 9 or lower in any matchup.

Getting back to the Mets – they followed a very similar pattern to Tampa Bay in the 1960’s. The Mets set a modern record for futility by going 40-160 in their inaugural season of 1962. They finished last in the then 10 team National League, a whopping 60½ games out of first place!

From 1963 through 1967 things did not get much better in terms of wins and losses and position in the standings. In those five seasons the Mets finished last four times and ninth once, winning no more than 66 games in a season. In 1968 there was modest improvement as the Mets set a franchise record with 73 wins, finishing ninth for the second time in three seasons.

But in 1969, with a roster laden with some outstanding pitchers including Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman and Nolan Ryan, the Mets improved by 27 games to finish 100-62, winning the National League East in what was the first season of Divisional play. The Mets then swept the NL West winners, the Atlanta Braves, to advance to the World Series to face the seemingly invincible Baltimore Orioles, who went 109-53 during the regular season.

After dropping the first game in Baltimore, the Mets then won four straight games to win their first of two World Series.