Rays will be last team standing in '14


OK, the envelope, please. And the winner of the 2014 World Series will be ...

The team with the third-lowest payroll in the major leagues. ...

A team that roared into the postseason last year and still, somehow or other, managed to finish last in attendance in the major leagues. ...

The team with the scariest young rotation in the major leagues. ...

A team that all but waved adios last fall to its favorite Cy Young, and then rocked the house all spring after seeing him walk back in the clubhouse door in February. ...

The team that does the best job in the major leagues of fusing together the science of baseball and the humanity of baseball. ...

And, maybe most important, a team that apparently never got that crazy directive from the Baseball Jinx Police that says you should, never, ever, ever talk out loud about winning the World Series.

In other words, the winner of the 2014 World Series will be ... those Tampa Bay Rays.

Heck, why not? It's about the only thing, after all, that the Rays haven't done over the last six years.

They've won more games (550) since 2008, you know, than any team in the sport except the Yankees (who have won just 14 more, despite a slight $900-million spending gap between those two teams).

They've spun off more 90-win seasons in that span (five in six years) than any team in the sport. You knew that, too, didn't you?

And they've made it to the postseason four times in those six seasons, tied with the Cardinals, Yankees and Phillies for the most trips to October of any team in the sport. Which is pretty amazing in its own right.

But what the Rays haven't done is finished the deal. So why not this year? Why not this team? Ask yourself that. Seriously. Why not?

"We've been to the World Series," says their tactician/magician manager, Joe Maddon. "We've been to the playoffs. We've had some remarkable moments. ... I mean, we've done some really good stuff. And really interesting stuff. Stuff that I think can be talked about in a manner that indicates it's a pretty good group. But the one thing we have to do eventually is win that World Series. Hopefully, it's going to happen sooner rather than later. And I think this group is very capable of that."

So Joe Maddon marched into spring training and did something that most teams, and most managers, would be terrified to do. With the assistance of his franchise-cornerstone third baseman, Evan Longoria, the manager coined the catchphrase that would set the Win It All mission statement for this team:

"Eat Last" -- based on the Simon Sinek book, "Leaders Eat Last."

But in this case, Eat Last isn't a mellifluous way of saying, "Pass the dessert menu." It's the manager's way of saying to his team: "It's time to win." What's fascinating is that he has zero fear whatsoever of saying it. And his troops have noticed.

"Around here," says the new catcher in town, Ryan Hanigan, "I don't think they're afraid of anything, really."

Very perceptive man.

"I'm not a jinx guy," says Joe Maddon.

No kidding. Once, in another lifetime, as a minor-league manager, he used to do the stuff everyone does. Wouldn't change socks if his team was on a winning streak. Wouldn't wash his underwear. Then he asked himself: What am I doing?

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