Before the 2008 season, the Tampa Bay Rays were known as the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. More importantly, they were known as the laughing stock of the entire MLB. Before last season, the best Rays record was 70-91 back in 2004. They had lost 90 or more games every year since their formation in 1998. The only time they did not finish in 5th place in the AL East was in 2004, that same year that they won 70 games.
However, in 2008, things changed for the Rays. First off, their name changed. The term "devil" was viewed as politically incorrect and it was quickly removed from their title. Their name was then changed from the Devil Rays to simply the Rays. But, everyone in the American League still viewed them as the same Devil Rays who lived on the bottom of the AL East. They were in for a rude surprise when the Rays quickly shot up to the top spot and held it all year. Suddenly, everyone was a Rays fan when they made their new name as the best team in the American League and advanced to the World Series only to have their valiant effort outdone by the World Champion Phillies. The Rays were lead by an up and coming rookie and other young players that had shown promise. Their bullpen went from worst to first and so did their team.
Now, it leads me to think. Did the mastermind of Peter Angelos try to take a step into the Rays' direction and make a logo change? I would not put it by him. However, you cannot blame the man. The Orioles have the possibility to be the Rays of '09. Let's look at it for a second.
The Tampa Bay Rays were lead by Evan Longoria in 2009. Evan Longoria was an up and coming minor league player who everyone knew could make a big bang once he reached the big leagues. The Orioles have their version of Evan Longoria coming as well. Matt Wieters has been rocketing through the minors and killing every pitcher he meets. Matt won the 2008 Minor League Player of the Year award. So, can Wieters be the Orioles' Longoria in 09? It is very possible.
Another key part in the Rays success was the power hitting Carlos Pena. Carlos Pena lost his sparkle then found it again in 2007 when he busted out with 46 homers and 121 RBIs for a lowly Rays team. He followed it up with a 31 homerun 2008 season. The Orioles' 07 Pena came this year in the form of Aubrey Huff. Aubrey Huff busted out with 32 homers and 108 RBIs for the last place Orioles. Can Aubrey Huff come back and be the Orioles' version of Pena? Stay tuned.
Let's not forget to look at the most obvious comparison between the two teams. The Baltimore Orioles are a team with a young core just like the Rays. Outfielders Adam Jones and Nick Markakis are 22 and 25 respectively. A lot of the Orioles hype comes from the young studs in the minors like the aforementioned Wieters and the pitching phenoms Chris Waters and Chris Tillman.
The Rays' bullpen was one of the worst in the MLB in 2007. Somehow, they became one of the most feared pitching staffs in the MLB in 2008. The Baltimore Orioles experienced troubles in the pitching department with their ace Jeremy Guthrie and other failures like Daniel Cabrera. The Orioles could slug in 2008, but they could not pitch out of jams. The Orioles also hope to pull a Rays and go to the top.
The comparisons between these two ballclubs are eerie yet they open your mind to a lot of possibilities. Major League Baseball fans, do not be surprised to see the Orioles go from worst to first.