It all began with David vs. Goliath. It continued this weekend in Fenway Park, Boston. David came into town to face the might Goliath in a mismatch of the poor farm boy and bemouth, the haves and have nots, of a team which spends hundreds of millions and can attract almost any free agent they desire, opposed by a team which doesn’t make as much as Boston’s’ infield, has little to no fan interest, and doesn’t have a chance. Everyone knows this, everyone except it would seem, the Tampa Bay Rays.
Tampa Bay wins with no margin for error. Their pitching must be solid every game and their defense has to make all the plays. They don’t win games as a rule out homering the opposition. They have to be as perfect as possible to have even a chance.
Tampa Bay lost their entire bullpen and All Star left fielder Carl Crawford over the past offseason. They have Evan Longoria and no other star position players. They shouldn’t have any hope of making the playoffs given their low budget and the fact that they play in the nastiest division in baseball. Not only do they have to contend with the Boston Red Sox machine, but also those true beasts of baseball, season after season, the New York Yankees.
The Boston Red Sox, like the New York Yankees, can address any need they might have or that might come up during the season, simply by opening their check book. They have made some signings in the past which didn’t work out but can shrug them off and sign another star. With such a large margin for error, life is much easier.
But teams such as Tampa Bay should have no business contending, especially in the AL East. That they have done so for the past three seasons is all the more remarkable.
One factor which, ironically, has helped Tampa Bay, is their season after season of mediocrity. This enabled them to have high draft choices and many of them. There is no other means of survival for Tampa Bay as their indifferent fan base and lack of salary at the big league level.
Boston, though, because of their recent success, has not had this “luxury”. Although their farm system has been productive, the opportunity to draft future stars has not often been there. They must draft with an eye to filling holes in their minor league system and/or using their young players as trade material for any holes needing filling at the big league level.
As has been proven over the years, draft picks, more often than not, do not make an impact at the major league level. Tampa Bay in past seasons had to draft and sign as many players as possible, hoping that through sheer numbers, a star will emerge. Their scouting must be perfect. There is no room for error.
Both teams have excellent managers. Both have different styles, possible based on their personnel. I’m certain John Madden would love to sit back and wait for the big homerun. I’m certain Terry Francona would be perfectly capable of playing little ball.
Joe Maddon has a team which isn’t expected to compete, even with their success over the past three seasons. He makes them believe that they will win. He doesn’t believe he is David. He believes he is Goliath. If Maddon loses a star player, he replaces him with three average players. He knows how to take advantage of what a player can give him and doesn’t use him in a situation he will likely fail.
Terry Francona must juggle veterans with their egos. He must know when to sooth and when to scold. He must make his team dig a little harder when a star is injured. He must let his players work out a slump and stick with them despite the cries from the press.
Two completely different teams who are, on paper, far apart in ability and potential. A series like this weekend’s makes baseball watching in September worthwhile. After all, who would have bet on David but those who had lost all hope or the eternal optimist throwing his last gold coin down on the table?