While it's not surprising that the interstate rivals appear to be headed in completely different directions, it's probably a complete shock to many baseball fans that the team going south isn't the Marlins, who have been a laughingstock the past few seasons and were thought to be in a "rebuilding" year.
The young Marlins are on the upswing with a 31-28 record and in the mix at the top of the NL East. There is help on the way from a very talented farm system, and the front office will be looking to bolster the 25-man roster before the trade deadline.
The Rays, who have not had a losing season since that 96-loss campaign in 2007, are playing exactly how you'd expect a team with one of the lowest payrolls in baseball to play. There isn't a lot of help on the way. Their best young hitter, Wil Myers, is out for at least two months with a wrist injury, and their best young starting pitcher, Matt Moore, underwent season-ending Tommy John surgery in April.
Shortly after Wednesday's loss, the Chicago Cubs wrapped up a victory over the New York Mets and effectively jumped ahead of the Rays, who now have the worst record in baseball at 23-37 (.383 winning percentage).
Is it time to give up hope on this season and start looking to the future?
The AL East isn't the powerhouse it has been for several years. The world champion Boston Red Sox are only 4.5 games ahead of the Rays at 27-32 and might be the biggest disappointment in baseball.
The New York Yankees are one game above .500 and are playing like a .500 team. They're a .500 team on paper and probably won't venture too far in either direction for the rest of the season.
The Baltimore Orioles are solid but aren't good enough to run away with the division.
The first-place Toronto Blue Jays, who lead the Rays by 13.5 games, have one of the most dangerous lineups in baseball and are playing up to their potential. They might not have enough pitching depth, however, to sustain their pace.
On the other hand, have you seen Tampa Bay play baseball lately? It's ugly, and it's going to be tough for this team to jump back into contention.
The Rays have typically exceeded expectations and played winning baseball despite lacking much big-name talent. This is the rare season when Andrew Friedman, the team's executive vice president of baseball operations, has not been able to put together a playoff contender on a shoestring budget.
It was bound to happen. Now is the time for the Rays to go into "seller" mode and trade veterans for young talent that can help the squad in 2015 and beyond.
David Price would be the big fish on the trade market. He was going to be this past offseason, when the Rays were expected to at least listen to offers for their 28-year-old staff ace, but rumors were few and far between.
In all likelihood, the Rays' asking price was astronomical. And for good reason. For a top-of-the-rotation lefty in the prime of his career and with two years of team control, the starting point of any trade conversations should've been two elite prospects.
Now that Price is closer to being a year-and-a-half away from free agency, the Rays could drop their asking price slightly—but not by much.
With a 4.03 ERA, nine walks and 101 strikeouts in 13 starts (91.2 innings pitched), Price's value hasn't dropped very much. He's struck out at least 10 hitters in four different starts. He's completed at least seven innings eight times.
Price is still one of the best in the game, and the Rays won't trade him unless the return is great.
A 2015 rotation of Chris Archer, Alex Cobb, Jeremy Hellickson, Jake Odorizzi and either Nate Karns or Enny Romero, with Moore returning around midseason, could be very strong. And that doesn't include the elite starting pitching prospect the Rays could potentially get for Price.
Aside from Price, Friedman has several other trade chips that should draw interest.
Outfielders David DeJesus (.789 OPS, 5 HR, 12 2B) and Matt Joyce (.762 OPS, 3 HR) are having solid seasons at the plate and could be fits for teams looking to add a left-handed bat to their lineup. Rookie Kevin Kiermaier is playing regularly with Myers on the shelf, but he's also good enough to keep playing when Myers returns. That won't be possible unless one of DeJesus or Joyce is traded.
Ben Zobrist (.696 OPS, 4 HR, 8 2B, 3 SB) isn't having a terrific season, but the 33-year-old switch-hitter has an .812 OPS since 2009 with an average of 18 homers, 35 doubles, 17 stolen bases and 86 walks per season. With a team-friendly $7.5 million club option in 2015, the versatile Zobrist would have a ton of value on the trade market.
There is also plenty of time for closer Grant Balfour (5.23 ERA, 18 BB, 17 K) and setup man Joel Peralta (4.68 ERA) to turn things around and boost their value prior to the deadline.
Both of these veterans have been among the best in the game in their respective roles over the past few seasons. If they can pitch well over the next six weeks—Balfour struck out two in a scoreless inning the last time out; Peralta has four strikeouts in two scoreless innings over his last two outings—there will be plenty of contending teams asking about the duo.
Like Price, none of the aforementioned players have to be traded because each is under control beyond 2014. That gives Friedman leverage, which he'll try to use to his advantage.
If he comes up empty-handed, though, especially with Price, it could set the organization back to a point where we'll continue to live in this bizarro world where the Marlins are very good and the Rays are awful for several more years.
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