TORONTO - In terms of the most basic measurements, it was the same old story at Tropicana Field this year.
The Devil Rays were the first team officially eliminated from the playoffs, saw their hitters strike out more times than any team in American League history, finished 29th in the majors in home attendance and will once again lose nearly 100 games.
The reality those numbers represent can't be denied, but there's a different feel as the Rays prepare to bow out of their first decade of existence following today's game against the Blue Jays. Rather than awaiting the usual round of spring training optimism that pervades every clubhouse, the anticipation for what might lie ahead is here already, and it feels legitimate.
Carl Crawford set a franchise record with a .315 batting average, and Carlos Pena has obliterated the team home run and RBI marks. Scott Kazmir is in line to take the strikeout title in the American League, if not the majors, with 239, and his 3.48 ERA is the best in team history. James Shields pitched the second-most innings (215) of any Rays hurler and likely would have picked up the 10 he needed to set the record if he had been allowed to make his final two starts.
All those players will be back next season, and they should have a far more solidified bullpen and bottom end of the rotation backing them up. Maybe a fully healthy Rocco Baldelli will join them, along with top draft picks Evan Longoria and David Price.
So as low as some of the lowlights were for the Rays this season, for once, many of them really can't wait until next year.
For an in-depth look at the 2007 season, turn to Page 16.