Tampa Bay Rays; forging a ‘team identity’

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Psychology in sports is a tricky business. That’s probably why endeavors are played and quickly forgotten. In the words of Chicago White Sox manager Pedro Grifol, “you better have a short memory in this game to succeed.”

Still, the concept of identity, character, purpose, acumen, and a zillion other terms tend to support the creativity of writers. At the same time, the construction of “a team identity,” is elusive. Whether the characterization is a team built around pitching, aggressive base running, the ability to manufacture runs, a power game or simply reacting to the energy of the crowd at a given moment, there is likely more than one way to describe the core components of a club.

That’s not really the case, says one player.

“We don’t talk about the overarching identity,” said Rays’ reliever Jason Adam before Tuesday night’s game with the White Sox. “We just talk about day-to-day things and what we need to do today to have success. Success as a baseball team is to win ball games. We talk about the small things and that creates the identity.”

Over the course of season, a team can evolve as a chameleon, which is known to change colors and camouflage. Perhaps the same for a group of players which can assume personalities and identities throughout a season. That might depend on injuries, acquisitions, and whether certain players remain productive,

In the case of the Rays, this past week disclosed a myriad of personalities and identities. During the recent sweep of the New York Mets, the displayed power, strong starting pitching, aggressive base running, and relief pitching which bailed the club out of precarious situations, were key elements to success.

That three-game victory sequence brought Kevin Cash, the Tampa Bay manager, to argue the concept of a team identity can be forged.

“To create an identity from a coaching standpoint, you show support to the players,” Cash said before Tuesday’s game with the White Sox. “From the players, it’s kind of learning how to compete, and hope that identity takes off from there. I’m impressed with the identity that this group has created for many years now, I think as a manager to just continue to support them.”

As the season progresses, the Rays have the capability to show several forces. Their power game will likely come from Randy Arozarena, Isaac Paredes, Josh Lowe, and Yandy Diaz. What could emerge is this team’s ability to pressure defense, play small ball in selective situations, and utilize the running game.

Pundits often say that pitching and defense win games but this edition of the Tampa Bay Rays will likely play intelligent baseball, under the guidance of Cash, and run to create opportunities.

The catalyst for this dimension will likely be Jose Caballero, the shortstop.

With Wander Franco’s court appearance in the Dominican Republic set for June, there is a strong likelihood he will not return for some time. That opens the door for Caballero, acquired from Seattle in the past off-season. To that end, the 27-year-old brings a daring and bold element and become only the 14th player in the history of the game to score three runs and steal four games in one game without a hit. That happened last Sunday against the New York Mets and Caballero explained that his modus operandi.

“Before, I took chances and now, I’m more careful,” he said. “I think you have to be smart and with this team, I don’t want to take many chances.”

Caballero has a history of theft on the bases. Last season with the Mariners, he stole 26 bases in 29 attempts and that 89.7 percent on stolen bases attempts was good for fifth best in the American League.

After a 5-1 win over the White Sox on May 7, the Rays ran a winning streak to five and the longest streak since last June. The identity factor for this team may be elusive, but Cash told reporters that the team he sees now on the diamond is the team he envisioned in spring training.

“It seems we have turned the dial,” he said after that May 7 victory. “We turned the volume up a little with the intensity and the energy. I’m impressed how this carried over from a big series (against the Yankees in New York last month) with loud crowds. We made sure that we were to continue to play good baseball.”

The post-World Series period … after the Arizona Diamondbacks declined to offer outfielder Tommy Pham a contract after the Series, the veteran outfielder wandered about the baseball landscape. Less than one month ago, the Chicago White Sox, in desperate help in all facets of the game, signed Pham and put him in centerfield.

Responding with a .282 batting average in his initial 10 games for Chicago, including a pair of homers, it appears Pham lives to play another day at the major league level.

Though rested on May 7 against the Rays, Pham’s value resonates.

“I want him in there every day, but he didn’t have a normal spring training,” said White Sox manager Pedro Grifol before the May 7 game. “I’ve played him four-in-a-row and we need to continue to build him up in a way just like the other guys. It hurts me to sit him.”

In the Series last year for the Diamondbacks, Pham hit .421 (8-for-21, 1 homer, 2 RBIs) but was tossed aside by Mike Hazen, the Arizona general manager.

“I don’t think after the World Series experience, he became Tommy Pham,” Grifol added. “He had that edge and that winning mentality.  He tasted the World Series and that was probably the big thing for him. Beyond the Series, he brings character and an appreciation for the game. He doesn’t take days off. He brings that winning edge that any club would need.”

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