While driving around yesterday, I heard an interview on Jim Rome's radio show of Tampa Bay Rays' budding superstar, Evan Longoria. While his name is hilariously similar to Desperate Housewives' star Eva Longoria, this guy is a legit power hitter. He is one of the many reasons why the Rays had a Cinderella run to the World Series last year.
Rome asked Longoria a couple very good questions (I suppose he has his job for a reason.) One question was, "Do you think that you have a bullseye on your back now that teams have seen how successful your team was last year?" Longoria answered in a more elaborate way, but the overall jist was, "Yes- we do have a bullseye on our back this year."
So here we set 15 games into the Rays' 2009 season and they are 6-9 and in last in the AL East. While I doubt they will finish in last, and I don't subscribe to freaking out of the first 15 games of the baseball season, I did predict them to finish third behind the Yankees and Red Sox because of the raised expectations they will experience this year. Now that everyone knows how good they can be, they are not sneaking up on anyone. Last year, playing the Rays was not a big deal to the other Major League clubs. If they beat the Rays, big deal- the Rays had never had a winning season, so why take them seriously? If they lost to the Rays it was decently embarrassing- almost like a major college football team scheduling a FCS school. The big time school gains nothing by winning, but finds shame after the FCS school sneaks up on them and pulls an upset.
This year, teams will not have a tough time motivating themselves to play the AL Champion Rays (sounds way better than the "Never Had a Winning Year Before" Rays.) Early on, we can see that the 6-9 record could be an indication that teams are giving their best effort for each game against the Rays. This leads into Rome's next question, "It is probably too early in the season to panic, but when is a good time to panic?" Longoria answered clearly, "Now is the time to panic. We'd be wrong not to have a sense of urgency. We have to turn things around and improve immediately." While I'm paraphrasing, and Longoria didn't sound worried about it, I really liked his answer. There's really no reason to freak out, but he and his teammates realize that 6-9 over the longhaul will not get it done. Teams will be giving their best effort against the Rays, so they had better be ready to bring it every night or the Rays will drift back to the back of the AL East.
I guess my main point is that I really do believe that expectations can affect how teams perform. The Rays have a very talented team, but they may find it hard to overcome the expectations that they've built for themselves. I still don't think the Rays will make the playoffs, but I have to say, I think Evan Longoria is a great player, and he sounds like a good leader with a solid point of view. I was impressed by his interview and wish I had him on my Fantasy Baseball team!