Contributing writer Ben Seal has 26 facts about the Rays, from Aussie to Zambrano:
A is for Aussie – Grant Balfour, a flexible member of the Rays ‘pen, comes from the land down under. He’s struggled a bit in the postseason, but he can shut down opponents in any relief role.
B is for Bartlett, Jason – Bartlett came over from the Twins to fill a hole at shortstop. Not a big bat, but his defense shored up one of the best defensive infields in baseball.
C is for Cowbell – Get ready to hear a lot of it. Regardless of what you think of Rays fans, a dome filled with old ladies banging cowbells is going to get loud. Matt Garza even tries wearing earplugs at home to zone out the noise.
D is for Devil – They spent a full decade as the Devil Rays, and the year they drop the Devil from their name, the Rays become a winner. Satanists be damned.
E is for Evan Longoria – Without a doubt the Rookie of the Year, Longoria’s ability to adjust mid-pitch and to get full extension on his swing have him years ahead of the learning curve.
F is for Favorites – The Rays have been picked by most to win the Series. The odds were stacked against the Rays in spring training, to the tune of 250:1.
G is for Gabe Gross – The Rays’ right fielder is the biggest weakness in the lineup, providing limited power, low average and not much else.
H is for Health – Carl Crawford. Scott Kazmir. Hell, even Rocco Baldelli is healthy right now. The only guy missing from the team is former closer Troy Percival, but at his age that was expected.
I is for Inventive – Manager Joe Maddon will do whatever it takes to win. That might mean walking in a run with a bases-loaded intentional walk or closing out game seven with a rookie. He’s not afraid to try things many managers would scorn.
J is for J.P. Howell – Another important reliever that has helped the Rays’ turnaround, Howell is used mainly as a lefty specialist. He can pitch multiple innings if needed, and is going to become familiar with Utley and Howard over the next ten days.
K is for K – The Rays pitching staff strikes out a ton of batters. Kazmir has a career K/9 of 9.8, one of the best ever. Balfour, Howell and David Price can whiff ‘em out of the ‘pen. Phils batters might struggle to make contact against Tampa.
L is for Losers – Everyone knows the Phillies were the first major sports franchise to lose 10,000 games, but the Rays have a pretty strong culture of losing. They averaged 97 losses while finishing above last place just once in their previous 10 seasons.
M is for Maddon, Joe – Maddon is the perfect skipper for this squad, giving them a leader to rally around and a source of energy at the same time. Not many 54-year-olds look good with a Mohawk and emo glasses, but Maddon has the youthful energy to pull it off. Sort of.
N is for Navarro, Dioner – His bat is developing while his defensive skills behind the plate balance the team out. He’s just 24, but has taken over a leadership role.
O is for Octogenarians – Many Rays fans are in the 80-plus age range. What do you expect when you play games in Florida?
P is for Power – Tampa has slugged 22 homers so far this postseason, including three or more in four straight games against the Red Sox.
Q is for Quick – Crawford and Upton give them speed in the outfield and on the basepaths. Carlos Ruiz will play a big part in this series to keep runners out of scoring position.
R is for Rookies – Longoria is a beast. Fellow rookie David Price’s 95-mph heater will torture Phils batters, and he might just be the closer the Rays have needed lately.
S is for Submarine – Watch out for Chad Bradford. It will be tough for Philly to adjust to the knuckle-scraping righty.
T is for Tropicana Field – Between the catwalk, the turf and the cowbells, the Trop is very different from what the Phillies are used to. The Rays (57-24) had the best regular season home record in baseball.
U is for Upton, B.J. – Seven homers thus far in the postseason, as well as some fantastic plays in center. Upton is extremely talented, and in a very serious groove.
V is for Vitale, Dick – The most famous Rays fan has been with them from the start. Not quite an octogenarian, but close.
W is for Worst to First – Tampa lost 96 games last year and finished 5th in the A.L. East, then put together one of the greatest turnarounds in baseball history.
X is for Experience – Cliff Floyd won a ring with the Fish, but the rest of the roster is loaded with guys who’ve never been there before. The Rays only 30-year-old regular is Carlos Pena. Youth could be a factor on the biggest stage in baseball.
Y is for Young, Delmon – Trading Young to the Twins brought in Matt Garza this offseason, who went on to beat Jon Lester in the ALCS twice on the way to winning the MVP.
Z is for Zambrano, Victor – The Rays picked up their ace from the Mets in a 2004 trade, and all it cost them was this washed up, injury-prone starter.