Joe Maddon’s Positivity Is to Be Expected, But AL East Is Becoming Two-Team Race Between Red Sox, Yankees


Joe Maddon's Positivity Is to Be Expected, But AL East Is Becoming Two-Team Race Between Red Sox, Yankees Joe Maddon is a talented manager. He clearly knows the game inside and out. He's known for his willingness to think outside the box on occasion. Perhaps his most important trait as a skipper, though, is is his ability to believe in and get the most out of his players.

Maddon has done that since his arrival to St. Petersburg, as evidenced by leading the Rays to the top or near the top of the AL East practically every year, despite competing with an incredible disparity in resources when compared to the other titans of the East, the Red Sox and Yankees.

And for all of that, Maddon must be commended as one of the best skippers in the game. This year, however, that positivity and optimism may not be enough, as the Rays are falling out of contention in the East.

The latest blow came on Sunday night when the Rays lost a heartbreaking 16-inning 1-0 decision to the Red Sox at Tropicana Field. All night, the Sox let the Rays hang around, stranding base runners at every turn. In the end, though, Boston was able to overcome the 17 men left on base to take the 1-0 win with them to Baltimore, while the Rays headed home for what would be a long, short night, with the Yankees in town and comfortably resting awaiting the start of a four-game set on Monday.

After the game on Sunday, though, Maddon unsurprisingly put his sunny disposition on things, saying that he took the loss as something of a positive.

"My takeaway is that we can beat the Red Sox, and they know it," he said after the game. "My takeaway from the 1-0 loss to the Yankees is that we can beat the Yankees and they know it. We're not going away. It's just a temporary inconvenience."

Well, yeah, they can beat the Red Sox. They did so on Friday night. They can beat the Yankees, too. They can beat them on a given night.

But as we approach the stretch run, we're about to find out what the Rays are really made of. Of their final 69 games, 22 of them are against either the Red Sox or the Yankees. In that time, we'll see the cream rise to the top, and it's beginning to look like Boston and New York will resume their customary spots atop the standings.

The Rays can play with both the Red Sox and Yankees, they just can't sustain it over a period of time, something that will likely be exposed down the stretch. The Rays simply don't have the offense to hang with the likes of the Red Sox and Yankees. For a team like the Red Sox, a game like Sunday night's is the exception. For the Rays, a team that ranks 15th in the majors in runs scored and 24th in batting average, it's a little bit closer to the rule.

On Sunday night, the Rays used their ninth different cleanup hitter of the season. As Orel Hershiser pointed out on ESPN's telecast of the game, that's not a stat you want to be leading the league in.

The fact that the Rays are only seven games out in the East heading into Monday's action is surely impressive. There were plenty who thought that Tampa Bay wouldn't contend this season, but that's something they've proven wrong. They had a roster overhaul losing players like Carl Crawford and Carlos Pena, not to mention literally their entire bullpen, but they've found a way to hang around.

It's not even August, and the Rays could still add a bat or two before the deadline. So that could help. They need the offensive help in the worst way. If they can't get it, expect them to start falling off the pace.

One thing you won't hear, though, is Maddon giving in. He obviously still believes in his team's chances.

"My point is that we can play with the Red Sox, we can play with the Yankees, regardless of our payroll," he said prior his team's weekend series with the Red Sox on WEEI's Mut and Merloni. "Never saw a dollar bill make a good pitch or hit a ball into the right-center field gap. It's about playing the game properly, with respect and heart on a nightly basis. And that's what we showed people in 2008."

Playing the game "with respect and heart" did work for the 2008 American League champs. Maddon can throw around all of the intangibles he want, and go as far out of the box as he can, but it won't be able to hide the simple fact that the Rays simply aren't good enough this season.

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