Monday 6 a.m.
The voices are soothing as they come out of the Tampa Bay Rays' clubhouse.
They are positive, affirming, and any minute, they might break into a chorus of Kumbaya. If there is disappointment, no one lets on. They come to praise whatever small parts of the game that can be praised. No one utters the sound of panic.
Here's a question.
Why the hell not?
After 16 losses in 18 games, isn't it time to blow a cork? Isn't it outrage time? Isn't it time for someone to slam their fist and yell in someone else's face. Oh, I know the counter-argument. Who are you screaming for? Who is impressed with volume?
Content beyond this point is for members only.
Already a member? To view the rest of this column, sign in using the handy "Sign In" button located in the upper right corner of the GarySheltonSports.com blog (its at the far right of the navigation bar under Gary's photo)!
Not a member? It's easy to subscribe so you can view the rest of this column and all other premium content on GarySheltonSports.com.
The fans? That sounds contrived. The team? That sounds rehearsed. Better to come across as calm, resolved, rational.
But think of it like this. There have been a lot of great managers/coaches, and most of them have gotten irritated from time to time. Don Shula. Earl Weaver. Billy Martin. Vince Lombardi. John Tortorella.
Ask yourself: What would Lou Piniella do? He'd yell. He'd show you that these games matter to him. He'd kick his team in its symbolic rear. Maybe it wouldn't help. Maybe it couldn't hurt
The Rays are plunging like a rock in water. They have gone from a mediocre team on a bad run to a bad team riding a nightmare. They have won only two of their last 18 games, and by now, defeat is expected. If you go to the ballpark tonight, do you expect the Rays to lose. Of course you do.
Why? Because it's what they do.
Wouldn't it be nice if someone would kick something. Instead, we hear the melodic sounds of people who act as if, at any minute, the Rays will flip the switch and go back to collecting victories. Chris Archer says he isn't going to beat himself up. Well, why not? Where is the emotion? Where is the frustration?
At this rate, the Rays will win 66 games this year. They will lose 96. That would be the fourth worst team of them all. The bullpen might give up a million.
In other words, it is as if the Andy Friedman/Joe Maddon years never happened. Ben Grieve might as well be in right field, and Vinny Castilla might as well be on third. If
nothing else, Tampa Bay knows the sight of a bad franchise. Between the Bucs, and the Rays, and yes, even the Lightning, every team in town has been accused of being the worst franchise in sports.
This one could stand — or fall — with them all.
Bad teams have a few things in common. When you're bad, the injuries matter a lot more. When you're bad, the officiating always stinks. You walk away muttering that the hits had eyes or the goals were soft or the touchdowns were flukes. Bad teams kill themselves with their own mistakes — errors and turnovers and penalties.
Losing teams are Booker Reese and Kevin Stocker and Marc Denis and Gerard Gallant and Wilson Alvarez and Jack Thompson. They are Leeman Bennett and Steve Ludzik and Hal McRae. They are Hugh Culverhouse and Art Williams and Vince Naimoli.
In other words, this is hardly the time for praise. Yeah, Archer was good. But do you really think Rays fans walked away from the ballpark talking about Archer's success? Or Danny Farquhar's failure?
You know what a losing streak is? It's Archer, Drew Smyly and Erasmo Ramirez all being 0-3 since June 16. It's Farquhar giving up home runs in five of his last six appearances. It's giving up 106 runs in 18 games. It's going from 5 ½ back to 14. It's having a bullpen that has given up 53 earned runs in 52 innings (more than a 9.00 ERA). It's having seven hits or fewer in 10 of the 18 games.
Eventually, the Rays will hit a better streak. It doesn't feel like it now, but baseball evens itself out. But even then, don't be fooled. This isn't a fast team, or a slick team, or an athletic team. They're a team of long-ball hitters who, frankly, kind of plod. The starting pitchers don't go long enough, and the bullpen doesn't shut the door enough, and the infielders don't have enough range and the outfielders are all beaten up. Look at this team, honestly, and tell yourself where they are supposed to win games. Pitching? Defense? Offense?
Here's what they're good at. They're good at calm. They're good at reasonable. They're good at walking under ladders and looking for the silver lining.
Maybe, as this team goes belly-up, it's time someone got fed up.
Besides, that is, the fans.