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Deeper Perspective Still Shines on Rays

As only Boz can, he wrote a glowing column rightfully crowning the Rays as potential one-year rebound kings if they can win the World Series. The way they've been able to use momentum and home field advantage in baseball's most sterile ballpark to slingshot past the Red Sox (at least in the regular season) does lend fans hope they can win a title.

Boz is right. If they pulled off the feat, Tampa Bay would be the first team in baseball history to go from having the worst record in the bigs to wearing rings in a single season. That being said, there are past squads who could challenge the Rays for the title of bounce-back king.

In his piece, Boz cites the 1991 Twins as the next strongest contender, with Minnesota beating the Braves in the World Series a year after finishing at the bottom of the old AL West. Those Twins went from a 1990 record of 74-88 to 95-67 in 1991, a jump of 19 games. That doesn't compare to the 31 game leap for this year's Rays, but it's still impressive.

Unfortunately for Minnesota fans, the longer-term arc of the two teams makes Tampa's feat much more impressive. In only one year among the past five were the Rays NOT the AL East's worst team -- 2004, when the Lou Pinella-led squad went 70-91 to finish in fourth. The Twins, on the other hand, were much better before their 1990 debacle, finishing fifth in the AL West in 1989 but a close second in 1988 ... and winning the World Series in 1987.

Advantage: Rays.

There's another former World Champion who made a miraculous leap up the standings a year after being on the verge of the cellar: the 1969 New York Mets. In the first year of baseball's divisional format, the Mets won the '69 World Series after winning the NL East with an impressive record of 100-62. Those 100 wins followed a gloomy 1968 season in which the Queens crusaders won only 73 games, a jump of 27 wins that nears Tampa's 31. Of course, the Astros were worse than the Mets in 1968 (as were three AL squads).

As for those teams' relative arcs, the Mets were worst in the NL twice and second worst twice before their 1969 miracle. That might seem to give the Rays a slight edge, but on closer inspection it turns out the Mets were so putrid they were actually worse. New York lost more than 100 games in both 1967 and 1965 -- racking up an indefensible 112 losses in 1965 -- making their surge to a title a statistically bigger jump.

The verdict between the Rays and Mets? Call it a toss-up.

If the criteria is broadened to reflect what would happen in the Rays made the World Series but lost to the Dodgers or Phillies, there's a number of additionally contenders who could claim to have made similar meteoric rises, none more impressively than the 1991 Braves (who fell to the aforementioned Twins in quite the Cinderella series) and the 2006 Tigers.

That, however is still down the road. For now, Tampa Bay has to find a way to get by a team they beat 10 times during the regular season, yet still mystifyingly finished well behind in terms of run differential, on base percentage, ERA and almost every other statistical category. Except, of course, for the one that counts most: wins.

For the sake of future academic debate if the Devil Rays DO achieve the improbable, here's the World Series campaigns and relative lead-in seasons for other teams who have made similar leaps. Judge for yourself whether the Rays' transformation from moribund to masterful is more impressive than the other contenders.

2008 97-65 (AL East champion, ALCS)
2007 66-96, (5th in AL East)
2006 61-101 (5th in AL East)
2005 67-95 (5th in AL East)
2004 70-91 (4th in AL East)

1969 100-62 (World Series Champion)
1968 73-89 (9th in NL)
1967 61-101 (10th in NL)
1966 66-95 (9th in NL)
1965 50-112 (10th in NL)

1991 95-67 (World Series Champion)
1990 74-88 (7th in AL West)
1989 80-82 (5th in AL West)
1988 91-71 (2nd in AL West)
1987 85-77 (World Series Champion)

1991 94-68 (National League Champion)
1990 65-97 (6th in NL West)
1989 63-97 (6th in NL West)
1988 54-106 (6th in NL West)
1987 69-92 (5th in NL West)

2006 95-67 (American League Champion)
2005 71-91 (4th in AL Central)
2004 72-90 (4th in AL Central)
2003 43-119 (5th in AL Central)
2002 53-106 (5th in AL Central)

By Cameron Smith  |  October 8, 2008; 7:36 PM ET
Categories:  Braves , Mets , Rays , Tigers , Twins  
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Boswell's column, save some time:
Sportswriters write too much about the Cubs.
The Rays will win, unless they don't.
The Cubs get too much attention.
That Boston's a pretty good team.
The Cubs are over-hyped.
The Phillies are still playing?
Did I mention the Cubs? They get mentioned too much.
The Rays might win. It could happen.
Cubs, who needs 'em?

Posted by: S3MC | October 9, 2008 7:58 AM | Report abuse

More, to the point: (Tampa) Bay (Devi) Rays had better win this year. The trash heaps of recent baseball history are filled with one-year wonders who couldn't keep it going.

Posted by: ce | October 9, 2008 8:03 AM | Report abuse

Or in the case of the Yankees, 13-year wonders...

Posted by: natsfan1a | October 9, 2008 10:40 AM | Report abuse

As a Nats fan, that gives me hope.

Posted by: Juan-John | October 9, 2008 12:36 PM | Report abuse

Me, too, Juan-John.

Get your cowbell on:

Posted by: natsfan1a | October 9, 2008 1:22 PM | Report abuse

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