It’s a historic day for the Tampa Bay Rays as they take to the field for their first ever postseason game. The “Devil Rays” didn’t even finish one season with a .500 record, never mind ninety-seven wins and an AL East pennant, so you could say the re-branding over the off-season has had an immediate impact.
But the most notable part of their success is not the positive effect of a new name and outfit. It’s the fact that, unlike in a lot of sports closer to home, MLB is truly an exciting and unpredictable competition.
One of the great features of MLB is the way in which teams can turn things around quickly. A 90+ game loser one year can make the play-offs the next, just as a team tipped for the top by all and sundry prior to a season can end up sitting dead last in their division. Behind the Kansas City Royals. If you could travel back in time to 1 April and tell a Detroit fan that their biggest impact on the play-offs would be losing a regular season game to the White Sox, allowing them a chance to beat the Twins in a tiebreaker to win the Central, you would probably be condemned as the biggest April Fool in history.
Baseball Lesson #1,489: Winning the off-season doesn’t offer any guarantees that you will win anything else in the season ahead.
While the Rays’ post-season berth is a surprise, let’s not forget that the White Sox lost ninety games in 2007 and didn’t figure much in any prediction lists. Both teams have defied the ‘experts’ to win their respective divisions and both will be confident that they can continue to prove people wrong by winning the World Series.
Tropicana Field is the setting for Game One of their division series, with James Shields and Javier Vazquez on the mound. First pitch is set for 19.30 BST. The Tampa Bay locals haven’t been selling out the Trop as regularly as their team’s performances deserve, but I’m sure it will be packed out today and the atmosphere inside the dome should be electric. No other games are currently scheduled to take place during the daytime in the States, so British fans should take full advantage of being able to follow this contest live without forgoing any sleep.
- Brewers versus Phillies. Cole Hamels was masterful for the Phillies in the day game yesterday, using his changeup to make some very good hitters look silly. The Brewers will be fully expecting their ace CC Sabathia to repay the compliment tonight, although this will be his fourth start on three days’ rest. Brett Myers goes for the home team as they look to take a 2-0 series lead. This one starts at 23.00 BST.
- Dodgers versus Cubs. The Dodgers jumped out to a 1-0 series lead with their 7-2 victory last night. It’s imperative for the Cubs that they leave Wrigley with a split, particularly after being swept by the D-Backs in their division series last year, so this could turn out to be the decisive game. The starting pitcher match-up is Chad Billingsley against Carlos Zambrano and first pitch is around 02.30 in the early hours of Friday morning in Britain.