The likables: So far, these Rays have been enjoyable

by Gary Shelton on July 11, 2017 · 2 comments

in general, Tampa Bay Rays

Adeniny Hechavarria has been an asset for Rays./CARMEN MANDATO

Adeniny Hechavarria has been an asset for Rays./CARMEN MANDATO

Tuesday, 4 a.m.

The bullpen travels with its own gasoline. Any time a lead feels too safe, too secure, it is able to pour it over the scoreboard and start a bonfire.

No one in a Rays' uniform has ever given up more home runs than Jake Odorizzi's current pace. When you erase Wilson Alvarez from the wrong side of the record book, it's got to sting.

There are times they run the bases like they think there is another option besides a left turn. The hitting can disappear at any moment. Closer Alex Colome is the Tampa Bay's leading cause of ulcers.

And still, I like this team.

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After all these years, Longo still leads the Rays./CARMEN MANDATO

After all these years, Longo still leads the Rays./CARMEN MANDATO

Honestly, I do. And let's admit it. No columnist likes every baseball team that breaks spring training. No manager, and no player, does either. Teams have personalities the same as athletes, and some of them are jammed with egos and stat-hunters, with guys aiming at big numbers (fame) and big paydays (fortune). There are players who jump media members who have made the Hall of Fame, as if their frustration is the greatest frustration a man has ever felt. No one could ever understand how hard it is for those guys, right?

Then, there comes along a team like this Rays' bunch, a quirky blend of personalities that — halfway through a season — finds itself in position for a post-season berth. Who'd would have thunk it? After last season's 64-98 disaster, who would have thought the team could get well fast enough to matter.

No, they are not the '27 Yankees, and their Row is not made up of Murderers. They are not the Gas House gang or the Amazing Mets or the Big Red (or any other color) Machine.

But there is an intangible to this team that makes you want to join in the celebration.

Souza has been a star for the Rays./CARMEN MANDATO

Souza has been a star for the Rays./CARMEN MANDATO

Dadgummit, I like this club. Frankly, you should like it, too.

Oh, I know. A lot of teams drive you crazy. A lot of teams make you sad. And worst of all, a lot of teams make  you turn away from them.

This one? This one you want to chuck on the shoulder and have a beer with.

I like its cohesiveness. I like its pluckiness. Most of the time, I like its defense. I like the new bloods, and the old. I like the power, and the speed. I like the personalities, and the character.

I like the improvement that came from within the locker room after last year: from Alex Cobb and Corey Dickerson and Logan Morrison. I like the pickups of the off-season: Mallex Smith and Colby Rasmus and Wilson Ramos. I like the additions the team has made along the way: Adeiny Hechavarria and Trevor Plouffe.

“I love this team,” manager Kevin Cash said. “It's a good group of guys. You love the part on the field and the way the way they perform. But the way the guys are in the clubhouse, the way they pull for each other. It's been a really fun group to watch them fight through.

“We have a bunch of new guys. They're welcomed here like they've been here three-four years. If they're comfortable, they're going to play well.”

I like that it wins most of the time. I like that you can expect more of it once Kevin Kiermaier and Rasmus return. And Matt Duffy, if ever.

I like Evan Longoria, the captain, who leads the Rays in big moments. He's always busy in the clubhouse, it seems, but when he talks, he is the voice of perspective. Others have said they want to see Longoria in contention. Us, too. Here.

“It feels like all 25 guys pull for each other and are here for one cause and that's to win the game,” Steven Souza Jr. said. “I know that sounds very remedial, but you can get on teams where guys just want to have good years. Everyone here wants to win the World Series, and that's a fun team to be on.”

I like Souza, because you never know what the prize is inside. You never have any idea whether he's going to be awesome or awful. He's capable of diving for a fly ball and landing 15 feet away from it. And he's capable of launching himself into the right field bullpen and making a brilliant catch. He's a hand-grenade; even his strikeouts are one-act plays.

Outfielder Mallex Smith talks about getting the unexpected from Souza. “It's not the Souza face,” he said, “It's the Souza action. He's crazy.”

I like Dickerson, who has re-invented himself. Oh, he may not end the season as hot as he has been; he's hitting only .118 in his last 10 games. But he's become a more complete player.

I like Morrison, the consolation prize when the Rays couldn't sign Chris Carter. Morrison has been terrific this season. His glove work has been good, too.

I like Hechavarria, who is playing the best shortstop the Rays have seen in, like, ever. I like that Hechavarria was the kind of trade the Rays never make, a trade for right now, big contract and all. It was a huge symbol that the Rays expect meaningful games this season.There is something liquid about the way he plays short, sometime slick and smooth.

I like Tim Beckham, who has finally shown what the Rays saw in him in the beginning. Beckham has a little more pop than some second basemen, which isn't bad.

I like Wilson Ramos, the Buffalo. Can you imagine being on the sidelines for most of the season, watching the game you love from outside a plate glass window, like it was a restaurant? Ramos has some serious thunder in his bat. Just wait.

I like Alex Cobb, who's competitive streak is better than his curveball. An opponent had better be three runs better than Cobb to beat him by one.

I like Jacob Faria, who takes a presence with him to the mound. He strikes you as the real deal.

I like Chris Archer, who too many expect to be perfect. He's still a strong starter, however.

I try to like Alex Colome. But he's on the high-wire so often, he should be a Wallenda. If he were in Saving Pvt. Ryan, the enemy would have been on third base.

I like Mallex Smith, who has an extra gear in his legs. Last year, I didn't think the Rays were athletic enough. This year, they are. Smith is a big part of that.

“I think as far as team chemistry, it's not a matter of everyone liking each other and everything being happy-go-lucky,” said Miller. “This team has the same fire, everyone is on the same page. I haven't experienced the playoffs. We have a lot of guys who are hungry. We all are.

Look, fans are fickle. No one is interested in a bad team. That's part of it. This team is likable because it has been resilient, and it has danced around home plate after games looked lost, and because it has won after too many years of losing. Trudging off the field after a loss is not exactly a desirable personality trait.

Will any of us like this team after a slump? After blowing another couple in the ninth? No, not as much.

The better this team plays, the more we will all like this team. If Alex Colome and Brad Boxberger can add stability to the bullpen, if the defense remains sharp, if the baserunning gets better, this team has the stuff to make a serious run.

That way, you can keep on liking them. Right?


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