For Tampa Bay Rays, a 2024 goal is to exorcise demons from the past

ST. PETERSBURG – With pitchers and catchers reporting to the Port Charlotte training site in just over two weeks, the usual preparations for the Tampa Bay Rays, and the other 29 major league clubs, are well underway.

From the usual truckload of equipment to identifying lockers for newly acquired players, organizing the daily schedule, and meeting personal accommodations, the task of preparing a team for the championship season is arduous.

Aside from the physical duties, the residue of last season cannot be forgotten and swept under the rug. Sure, the Rays qualified for the post-season in each of the past five seasons. During that time, the club assumed a rather forgettable roster of results.

In this span, the Rays dropped nine of 14 games played and lost seven of their last seven encounters over the past three playoff years. Swept in two by the Texas Rangers during the Wild-Card round at Tropicana Field last October, the Rays managed one run during those two encounters.

One theory circulated at the time felt the Rays’ demise was due to silent bats and poor defense. Here and in game two, Rangers’ starters Nathan Eovadli fed the Rays a diet of curves, 21 through his 6.2 innings of work, and Tampa failed to place one in play.

 “I don’t know if it’s a fluke or not,” manager Kevin Cash told Sports Illustrated after the 2023 post-season. “I think the guys that we had out there today were able to do better than what we did today. We’d like to continue playing, but I can’t put my finger on one specific thing why we’ve been eliminated pretty quickly.”

Given the shocking track record of failure, perhaps Cash and his players need to take a deep dive into their let-down. Sports psychologists like to start with execution and a lack of an individual, as well as a team’s ability to produce in critical situations.

When, as the Rays did, scoring one run in two post-season games is not terribly productive, the reality of poor execution clearly enters into the equation. Once the avalanche begins, fingers tend to point the blame. One common refrain allows individuals to legitimize excuses, and another does not take ownership of failures.

Still, others stand out and proclaim, “it’s on me.” In the end, the only variable that an individual player and team can control is personal performance.

While Cash faces a myriad of challenges this spring, from rebuilding a rotation in which two starters (Shane McClanahan, Jeffrey Springs) went down with Tommy John surgery and another (Tyler Glasnow) traded, the precarious plight of Wander Franco and instability at the shortstop position and adding bench strength, the failure of a year ago will likely be placed in the rear-view mirror.

Yet, the phenomenon of losing casts a long shadow.

Competing in a very competitive division, talent will rise and Cash, who enters his 10th season as Rays skipper, will push all the right buttons. Directly, the target of October remains squarely on the radar screen. This time, the dimensions of losing in the post-season will likely be exacerbated and the challenge for Cash and his players lays in a straightforward confrontation.

ELSEWHERE …pitchers and catchers report on Tuesday, Feb. 14 to the Rays training site at Port Charlotte and the first workouts are schooled for the following day. Position players are due to report on Sunday, Feb. 18, and begin workouts the following day … the first pre-season game is scheduled for Sat Feb. 24 against Atlanta at Port Charlotte … because of damage from Hurricane Ian in 2022, the Rays conducted spring training essentially out of Tropicana Field. Now, the facility has been repaired. … the regular season begins on Thursday, March 28 against Toronto in Tropicana field. The initial home stand includes four with the Jays and three with the defending World Series champion Texas Rangers.

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