Although the 2009 Rays won't be defending the American League championship they claimed a season ago, and even though they'll finish behind the powerhouse Yankees and Red Sox in the division, the positives are there.
Some of them were on display Tuesday night, when Carl Crawford continued to put the finishing touches on arguably his best season with his franchise-record 60th steal and Tampa Bay moved closer to securing a winning record for just the second time in franchise history.
But nothing seemingly offered more reassurance than the performance of Wade Davis.
The rookie right-hander took the rotation spot of Scott Kazmir after Kazmir was dealt to the Angels, and in this outing, Davis continued to show he could be a key cog in the Rays' rotation next year by holding the Orioles to just one run in seven innings during Tampa Bay's 3-1 win in front of 10,349 at Tropicana Field.
"Unbelievable," said B.J. Upton, who provided another positive by contributing one of his most complete games of the season. "I think there's a lot more to come. He's been impressive in the starts that he's had. He had one rough game, and obviously that's expected. But other than that, he looks great."
Tampa Bay isn't looking too shabby right now, either.
The Rays have won three consecutive games and eight of their past 11, and they need to win just one of their next five games to finish above .500 for the second year in a row.
But none of that matters in their clubhouse this season.
"Talk to any one of our guys, none of us can watch TV right now," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "I can't watch SportsCenter, watch MLB Network and I can't read the papers. I'm really soured by the fact that we did not get back, because I truly believe that we could have.
"But I like what we're doing right now, actually. It speaks a lot for the culture that we've created. We easily could've mailed all these games in and [acted as though] the season is over, we don't care. I see a bunch of guys going out there playing to win every night, and actually we're playing some of our better baseball right now."
Not many have been pitching better than Davis.
The 24-year-old's first Major League win came on a four-hit shutout against the Orioles on Sept. 17. In the second game of this four-game series, Davis ran his pitch count to 58 by the end of the third inning, but he retired his final 11 batters and finished giving up seven hits and three walks on 106 pitches to get the win.
"Doesn't surprise me," Maddon said. "Doesn't surprise me that he's able to maintain his composure and do those things. I am certain that he'll be able to do that in the future also."
Davis is 2-1 with a 3.45 ERA, and if you take away an eight-run outing against the Red Sox on Sept. 12, his ERA would sit at 1.25.
"Bad early, better later," is how Davis summed up his outing. "I started pitching to contact. Instead of trying to get good outs, I was trying to get them off-balance and get them looking. ... Just tried a couple of different things, and it worked."
"He does what you need to be successful at this level, and that's throw the ball hard," added Orioles manager Dave Trembley, whose club has dropped 12 consecutive games, the most in the Major Leagues this season and tied for the third-longest skid in club history.
The Rays took a 2-0 lead on Orioles starter Jeremy Guthrie in the first inning, when Ben Zobrist hit an RBI double and Willy Aybar followed with an RBI single. After Guthrie had retired 11 of his previous 12 batters, Reid Brignac hit a one-out triple in the seventh and came home on Upton's deep sacrifice fly to give Tampa Bay an insurance run.
"He looked very comfortable and good tonight," Maddon said about Upton, who also doubled in his first game at the leadoff spot since Aug. 2.
The Rays also turned in two key defensive plays.
In the first inning, Gabe Gross gunned down Ty Wigginton trying to score from second on a single to right field by Matt Wieters. Then, in the top of the seventh, Upton turned in the play of the night when he sprinted towards the gap in deep left-center field and made an over-the-shoulder basket catch on a shot by Jeff Fiorentino.
"That was a great catch -- one of his better catches I think I've seen," Maddon said. "He's playing in, there's two strikes, breaking ball, left-hand hitter that you don't expect to hit the ball far to that part of the ballpark, and he outran it. It was beautiful."
Upton had a much simpler explanation.
"Hard-hit ball in the gap," he said. "I just never gave up on it, and I made the catch. Not much more I can say."
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less