In this edition of MLB Rivalries, we’ll be looking at another geographic rivalry; the Citrus Series between the Miami Marlins and the Tampa Bay Rays.
Fresh off both teams being knocked out of the playoffs in their respective Wildcard Series last season, Bat Flips & Nerds’ Miami Marlins team contributor Tomi Korkeamäki, along with Rays fan and Bat Flips & Nerds podcast co-host Rob Noverraz, each give their perspective on the rivalry at a time when both teams’ on-field fortunes have started to improve.
Even though the Marlins have a few years more under their belt in the MLB than the Rays, for me the Citrus Series has always felt more like the Marlins are the younger brother trying to take down their big brother in a wrestling match.
With 280 miles between the two cities, it is not a rivalry in the classic way of the two teams being from the same city, but the Citrus Series has its own vibe. In recent years, the Rays have poured the juice from the citruses into the eyes of the Fish fans as the Rays have dominated the past series. The Marlins have only won 35 games out of 89 versus the Rays.
That being said, both teams have been in the World Series twice, but only the Marlins have walked out of it with the trophy in their hands both times. The Marlins are, as they should be, proud of their legacy as two-time World Series champions, but people have to be realistic; it has been twenty years since their last success. It is ‘success’ now for the Marlins to even make it to the playoffs. Meanwhile, even though the Rays don’t have a World Series trophy to show off, their recent success in the American League (AL) East and going all the way to the 2020 World Series mean they are a franchise that the Marlins are looking up to.
Ever since the new ownership took over the Marlins back in 2017, the whole concept of how they want to operate from top to bottom of the organisation is completely different from the model of how they won those two World Series back in 1997 and 2003. Those teams were made with money. However, this type of business model isn’t the most sustainable in the small market of Florida where both teams operate.
The Rays have become known for their dark art of building a winning team with little to no money. They have developed players that are overlooked by others and made them above-average MLB players. The Marlins, on the other hand, have become known for building a mediocre team with little to no money. Frankly, in recent years, it has felt that Miami is a place where most of the hitters go to die.
The Marlins have tried to copy the Rays for years and maybe they finally thought “Well, we can’t beat them, we can’t join them, so we will steal from them”. In November 2023, the Marlins made a move in the front office level that could not have been more the Rays way. They hired Peter Bendix from the Rays who had worked there as GM and now holds the title of President of Baseball Operations at the Miami Marlins. Bendix did a remarkable job in Tampa, getting the absolute best out of a roster that was put together with relative pennies, and had a say in player development, which is in quite bad shape in Miami. The hope for the Marlins is that he can work his magic in Little Havana as well.
It’s a bit of a shame that the Rays operate in the American League and the Marlins are the National League side, meaning the only playoff game we could get from these two teams would be in the World Series. It would be a massive boost for baseball in Florida to have an all-Sunshine State Fall Classic though.
In conclusion, I like the Citrus Series. It’s not the most heated series, but now, hopefully, the tide has turned for the Fish and they will continue to reach the same level as the Rays.
Tomi Korkeamäki is the Miami Marlins writer for Bat Flips & Nerds. Follow him on Twitter @tkorkeamaki.
Tampa Bay Rays
When you consider the challenges Rays fans face year in year out, your mind is most likely going to be drawn to one of three things:
- A cheap owner who’s chosen to have very shallow pockets.
- A stadium that’s in the wrong place (hmm, topical).
- Playing in a division with a 27-ring winner, Canada’s team and a bunch of blokes who like to mock the Trop’s catwalks despite playing in a pinball machine with a silly wall…breathe…I will not be triggered…oh, and also, the Orioles.
- Not the Marlins.
Rivalries are born out of competition and the struggle to achieve superiority. All of the ingredients are there within the AL East for the low-spending, poorly-attended Tampa Bay Rays to David their way past the Goliaths of the division, and therein lies the rub of the ‘rivalry’ with the team from Miami who are themselves no Goliaths and who, I dare say, share a similar level of apathy for the Citrus Series. There’s no adversity to cause tension which is provided from elsewhere in spades.
The Marlins first played in 1993 and the Rays in 1998. In 26 years of competition, there have only been four occasions where both teams finished over .500, so opportunities to go toe-to-toe at their peaks have been few and far between.
Beyond a lack of genuine rivalry, there is cause to consider that the Rays and Marlins may actually share a kinship or, at least, an affinity. When I think of the Miami Marlins, I don’t think of a looming foe that must be vanquished against all odds. Instead, I consider a team and a fanbase that can share in some of the same struggles. Both teams have had issues with ownership, both teams have struggled for attendance in Florida, both teams are market underdogs in their divisions and both teams have stadiums with ugly roofs.
In truth, this ‘rivalry’ is a construct of the league to fit in with a marketing narrative and that’s fine. There are some great rivalries out there in this sport, and they deserve their PR push, so you’ll not hear me call for an end to this one. However, a true rivalry needs to be something natural.
I’m going to torture a metaphor now: The Citrus Series is symbolised by naturally growing Floridian oranges. However, it’s probably more akin to those vaguely orange-tasting drinks you have to pierce the lid with the straw than a glass of Tropicana. Who knows what the future holds though? Perhaps with a bit more history, league realignment after expansion and a shared competitive run, this rivalry could become freshly squeezed and a bit pithy.
Rob Noverraz is one of the co-hosts of the Bat Flips & Nerds podcast, and can be found on Twitter @RobNoverraz.
As Rob rightly points out, the Marlins vs the Rays is not the fiercest rivalry in baseball. It doesn’t have the name recognition of Yankees vs Red Sox, the (and I speak from experience here having visited both cities) genuine inter-city animosity before you even get to what is the fierce baseball rivalry of Cubs vs Cardinals, nor the history and backstory of the Dodgers vs the Giants.
Given the Marlins play in the NL East and the Rays play in the AL East, this means both sides aren’t playing multiple series against one another each season too, as both Tomi and Rob highlight.
Therefore, there are not a lot of opportunities for the rivalry to play out and develop on the field, and, when it has, it has been a decidedly lopsided affair, with the Rays winning 64 of the 89 games played thus far in the Citrus Series.
Things may be about to change though; Peter Bendix played an integral role in building a Rays roster that has made the playoffs in each of the last five seasons, losing in the World Series in 2020, and making a record-equalling start to the 2023 season. The Marlins hiring him from the Rays to replace the much-respected Kim Ng could lead to some ill-feeling among fans then, particularly if the Rays’ on-field performance starts to suffer or the Marlins sign any of the Rays’ more-notable free agents (Tyler Glasnow becomes a free agent after next season, for example).
Furthermore, the Marlins look to be in the ascendency, constructing a talented and competitive roster featuring the likes of Luis Arraez, Jake Burger and Josh Bell, not to mention a deep pitching roster that should be able to compensate for the loss of Sandy Alcantara through injury in 2024. While losing Jorge Soler to free agency will be felt, the Marlins should continue to rise given the existing roster and with Peter Bendix now occupying the front office.
If ever something was going to give the Citrus Series a rivalry with some real zest, it’s the ‘little brother’ in The Everglades becoming successful having stolen away the guy – Peter Bendix – that helped the Rays become successful.
Featured image – Ivy Ceballo/Tampa Bay Times
Brett Walker is the Oakland Athletics contributor for Bat Flips &Nerds, and can be found on Twitter @BrettChatsSport.