Saturday, September 9, 2023

The 25-Year Plan


It is wild to me that the last two MLB expansion teams are celebrating their 25th years this year. When I started collecting, the D-Backs and Rays were still new, and didn't have full histories yet. As a matter of fact, 2007 was a turning point for both teams; the D-Backs changed their uniforms to the now-standard maroon-and-gold, and brought up Justin Upton, while the Rays brought up Evan Longoria and dropped the 'Devil' in their name once in for all. When I entered the hobby, I associated the Diamondbacks with Randy Johnson and heartbreak in 2001, and I associated the Rays with losing. 

It's very funny, in hindsight, how one of these teams is the more successful one both organizationally and in postseason victories, and it's not the won that's won a World Series. The Diamondbacks' win in 2001, the result of a Golden Knights-esque draft lottery goldmine and some well-timed signings, came three years into the team's history, yet the D-Backs never got that close to a ring again. They were in the running in 2007, making the NLCS come down to two post-90s expansion teams, but the Rockies had their number in all four games, Upton be damned. The Rays, meanwhile, have more playoff appearances, have appeared in more World Series', and despite a 2-0 record in ALCSs, are more likely to reach a division series and lose. 

Overall, as I write this, the Rays have 10 more wins than the Diamondbacks. As I write this Friday night they have 1997 wins. The Rays are going to win their 1998th game 25 years after debuting in 1998. It may have happened already. I kinda hope not, I want the Mariners to win some games, but it will happen very soon, and that'll be absolutely crazy. Plus, with the Diamondbacks as strong as they are, there's a chance they'll win THEIR 1998th game this season as well. Both might notch #2000 too, that'd be pretty cool.

And this is a year where both these teams are in line for spots in the postseason. The Rays are basically a lock for that first wild card spot, and are continuing their success as a low budget team making the most out of lesser-known talent. Even with all the small players that have been great this year, of late Brandon Lowe, the team's own homegrown star, has been pretty impressive, with 8 RBIs and 10 home runs since September began. Lowe is looking at, at the very least, a 20+ homer year, and another year of seeing his Rays compete. He's also surrounded by even more great performances and players at every position other than, for some strange reason, shortstop. Even if the Rays don't have the exclamation point they usually are equipped with, they're a favorite for the playoffs and could do some great things.

The Diamondbacks however have more of an uphill battle, even if they do currently hold onto a wild card spot. The Reds and Marlins are very close behind them, and even if the Giants have fallen behind they're technically not out of it yet. The D-Backs are still doing well, and are coming off an incredible complete game shutout by Zac Gallen. They're 5-3 in September already. Not only have they hung onto Carroll and Walker despite supposed injuries, but now Jordan Lawlar's up with the team and he's already looking like an impressive lineup piece. It also helps that Alek Thomas is steadier and more consistent at the plate that he was to begin the season, and while he's not as powerful as he was a rookie, he's still a nice piece of a much fuller and more versatile D-Backs squad. They're a favorite for a postseason spot, and even with cutthroat matches against the Cubs and Giants up ahead, they have a nice shot at ending up sitting in the right chair.

Even if there hasn't been any more expansion teams since 1998, the fact that these last two have been so successful, and have added needed elements to the league, is a refreshing sign 25 years after their arrival. Say what you will about either of these teams, but they've made their respective divisions a ton more interesting, and are making the playoff picture this year even more exciting.

Coming Tomorrow- A man who hits home runs, and doesn't do much else. Wouldn't want him on any of the other 29 teams, though.

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