Major League Baseball expanded to add the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Tampa Bay Rays in 1998. 18 years later, both teams have been to a World Series, each establishing franchise history along the way. Both teams will face off today for the first time since 2013.
But which team has had greater overall success since their 1998? The Diamondbacks, unlike the Rays, have won a championship. But Tampa Bay has been better recently, with a stretch of six straight winning seasons from 2008-13.
If you are counting, Tampa Bay leads the head-to-head matchups 9-7. But this small sample tells very little when comparing the two franchise’s overall history and success.
The Diamondbacks gained their footing in the league early on. They had just one sub-.500 season before getting their first taste of postseason baseball in 1999, winning 100 games. The team increased its win total by an impressive 35 games between its first two seasons, largely in part to the addition of Randy Johnson. In his first season with the Diamondbacks, he broke the team’s strikeout record set by Andy Benes (164) by raising him 200 more en route to 364 total strikeouts.
Arizona had the pleasure of having one of the greatest pitchers of all time in the thick of his pitching prime. Johnson won the Cy Young Award in each of his first four seasons with Arizona before missing most of 2003 due to injury. In that four-year span he collected 1417 strikeouts. Clayton Kershaw, widely respected as the top pitcher in recent memory, had 1001 in the last four seasons. So Johnson was striking batters out at an historic rate.
He help lead the Diamondbacks to their first and only World Series title in 2001, ending the Yankees’ great run of four championships in five seasons. The team also had the help of Curt Schilling, who shared the World Series MVP with Johnson, and Luis Gonzalez who had unexpectedly erupted for a career-high 57 home runs.
The Rays lost their only World Series in 2008 to the Phillies, losing four games to one. But what a run it was. The team had lost 96 games the previous season. Their starting lineup was led by Evan Longoria, a rookie at the time. The rest of the lineup was filled out with home-grown talent like B.J. Upton, former top prospects abandoned by other teams like Carlos Pena, and a 35-year-old Cliff Floyd.
However, there is no charity given for a ‘feel-good’ story when comparing teams by the numbers. The Rays lost in their only trip to the World Series while the Diamondbacks won their only trip in 2001. Arizona has made five trips to the playoffs while Tampa Bay has made just four times. Arizona pitchers have collected five Cy Young Awards while David Price’s 2012 campaign serves as the team’s only Cy Young-winning season.
Arizona has also spent more money over the years, attracting big names like Johnson, Curt Schilling and even Zack Greinke. Tampa, on the other hand, does not have the income to attract and retain talent to be able to complete at a high level on a regular basis. Until they find a way to do so, the Rays’ success will be much harder to come by than the Diamondbacks and their deepening pockets.
Though the Rays have played admirably for the small amount of resources they have had at hand, they cannot help but be overshadowed by their ‘twin’ franchise, the Diamondbacks, and the success they have had.