In the end, it just didn't happen for the Tampa Bay Rays in 2012. It's probably not fair to label the season a failure; after all, they won 90 games with one of the majors' lowest payrolls. What's more, the Rays might blame poor luck for their season ending after 162 games; they went just 21-27 in one-run games, which left them five wins short of the record (95-67) their excellent run differential might have suggested. So which player best symbolizes the Rays' ultimately disappointing season?
First thing's first: the Rays pitched really well, but were betrayed by their hitting. Led by David Price's 20-5 campaign and Fernando Rodney's bizarrely brilliant season, the Rays led the American League with a 3.19 team ERA. Whatever the secret to building an outstanding pitching staff on the cheap, they've found it.
Alas, the Rays' hitting was an entirely different story, as they finished just 11th in the league in scoring. Yes, they certainly were undone by crummy luck in close games. But the crummy luck might have gone largely unnoticed if the Rays had scored 30 or 40 more runs.
But they didn't. And while there were a myriad of reasons for the Rays' lack of production, one of the most obvious was the extended absence of Evan Longoria, easily their best player.
Longoria was off to a fantastic, MVP-quality start when, on the 30th of April, he suffered a debilitating hamstring injury. It wasn't until the 7th of August that Longoria was able to play again.
When he did return to the lineup, the Rays owned the eighth-best record in the American League. From that point through the end of the season, the Rays posted the third-best record in the league. But the clock just ran out on them, and so they finished three games behind the Rangers and the Orioles in the Wild Card standings.
No, Longoria's absence doesn't explain everything and there were other ways for them to score runs and win games. But just on a symbolic level, it's difficult to ignore the connection between Evan Longoria and the Tampa Bay Rays.
When their best hitter played, the Rays went 47-27. When their best hitter didn't play, the Rays went 43-45. No player in the history of baseball has made, all by himself, that much of a difference. But there was no player on the roster whose presence -- and his absence, for far too long -- meant more to the club.
In case you missed any previous entries in this EXCITING SERIES, here's the archive.