Had the World Series opponent for the 2008 Tampa Bay Devil Rays been anyone other than the Philadelphia Phillies I would have been on board. However I grew up a suffering fan of the Phillies and had to hope for the worst against this team of mostly unknowns. Having gone from losing almost 100 games in 2007 to nearly winning 100 in 2008 and battling to the point of getting to the World Series, this was a very accomplished team that for the most part has been forgotten in spite of all of the talent they had.
Evan Longoria arrived with the Devil Rays in 2008 and put together a Rookie of the Year winning season with 27 home runs, 85 RBIs, and a .272 batting average. The team wasn’t completely dependent on him though as they had a few other players with notable contributions.
The best offensive threat the team had was first baseman Carlos Pena. Pena launched 31 home runs and knocked in 102 RBIs. He also drew 96 walks to help make up for his .247 batting average. Another guy getting on base a ton thanks to bases on balls was B.J. Upton who had 97 walks and a .383 on-base percentage. Along with his 44 stolen bases, the Devil Rays appeared to have a dominant threat at the top of the order.
Although he was the last out in the World Series, Eric Hinske was also a major reason why they got there in the first place. Hinske provided the team with the necessary skills a utility man must. He was third on the team in home runs with 20 and his versatility with the glove, although not so strong, was still a great benefit. The team should also be thankful for second baseman Akinori Iwamura whose career spontaneously combusted by 2010. Iwamura led the team with 152 games played and had a .274 batting average. It’s a silly argument, but Iwamura may have been the team’s glue.
Nobody on the 2008 Devil Rays’ pitching staff won 15 games. David Price only started one in the regular season along with 4 appearances in relief so at the time they didn’t have that one true dominant starter. What they did have were a couple really good pitchers including a 14-8 James Shields, an 11-9 Matt Garza, and a 12-8 Scott Kazmir. Edwin Jackson and Andy Sonnanstine also pitched well for the team–as well as needed.
The team’s bullpen was however a bit shaky. Troy Percival, who seemed unstoppable during his days with the Wherever-They-Are-Now Angels, led the team in saves with 28, but also had a 4.53 ERA. Dan Wheeler would later fill in as the ninth-inning man and earn 13 saves with a much healthier 3.12 ERA.
The rest of the bullpen was pretty good too, most notably J.P. Howell and Grant Balfour. Howell would finish the season with a 2.22 ERA in 89.1 innings pitched while Balfour had his ERA down to 1.54 in 58.1 innings pitched.
Always underrated yet whenever you look at the great teams they’re almost always effective in this area is the team’s ability to catch the ball then throw the ball aka fielding. The team had a .985 fielding percentage which in modern-day baseball ranks in the upper half.
Longoria played a great third base for the team and would win his first Gold Glove the following season. He probably could have won the award in 2008 if he had played in more games. The team did win one Gold Glove this year and it was a bit of an unlikely candidate. First baseman Carlos Pena made only 2 errors all season for a .998 fielding percentage. Known more for his power, nobody could have guessed he would be the guy winning a fielding award and deserving it.