Josh Hamilton's emergence last season was quite a story. The guy went from #1 overall pick in 1999, to drug addict, to being out of baseball from 2002-2006. After being given a 2nd chance by the Reds last year, he responded by going .292-19-47. A remarkable comeback from a guy that was all but done in baseball.
But did anyone think that he could be this much better in 2008? The guy is absolutely out of control, picking up his 80th RBI last night in game #81. Hamilton currently leads the AL in RBI by 17 and is on pace for 35+ homers and 200 hits.
However, the most impressive stat are those RBI. After 81 games, or half the season, Hamilton is on pace for 160 RBI. How impressive is this? Only 12 guys in major league history have ever had seasons with 160+ RBI (Ruth, Gehrig, Foxx, Greenberg, Wilson, Klein, DiMaggio, Thompson, Simmons, Trosky, Ramirez, and Sosa). Only Ramirez and Sosa accomplished the feat during the Steroids Era.
If Hamilton keeps up his pace, his potential final numbers would be .310-38-160. In an era now with rampant steroid testing, this offensive season would rank as one of the best of the last 25 years. Maybe more guys need to take 5 years off in their prime??
How are the Rays doing it? They have the best record in baseball and one of the top farm systems in baseball. Tampa is in position to acquire a player or two before the trade deadline as well as call up future phenom David Price (currently 5-0 1.99 at AA). So far, great pitching and timely hitting has been the formula. The only Ray regular hitting over .300 is catcher Dionar Navarro. Former top picks BJ Upton, Carl Crawford, and Evan Longoria are playing well but only hitting between .265-.285. Jason Bartlett, Eric Hinske, Gabe Gross, and Carlos Pena are all below .265. They have been clutch, though, coming up with big hit after big hit as the Rays continue to win.
The pitching has really been the Rays strength as well as their most surprising asset. Scott Kazmir is as legit an ace as you can have and James Shields puts out quality start after quality start. Their leader in wins is Andy Sonnanstine and they also have Matt Garza and Edwin Jackson in their rotation. Pretty stout. As for the bullpen, Troy Percival has revived his career as a top notch closer and JP Howell and Dan Wheeler have been lights out in set up roles.
Can they make the playoffs? Sure. How dangerous are they if they reach the post-season? Depends. If they make a push for another pitcher, like CC Sabathia, the Rays could be a World Series contender. Imagine having a post-season rotation that sets up like this:
This also allows for Sonnanstine and Jackson to be available in the bullpen. The team with the best pitching usually wins in October, so don't expect the story of the Rays to go away any time soon. Now, if only some locals would come out and support them...