History. That was the word that was featured on a homemade banner that was unfurled in the stands after the Rays matched the major league record for most consecutive wins to start the season. The Rays have started off the season by sweeping the Tigers, Nationals, A’s, and now, the Red Sox. Before the series, colleague and fellow writer Chris Lavallee predicted that it would be split, showing that the Red Sox, even though they are not playoff-caliber, was seen as the first proper test for Tampa Bay this season. Yet, they still come out of it undefeated. Even after this, there are fans that will claim that the Rays have only gotten this record because they’ve had an easy schedule. This argument just doesn’t wash. For instance, immediately after the Tigers got swept by the Rays, they picked up two wins against the reigning champion Astros. The beauty of baseball is that the worst team in the league can beat the best on any given day. Therefore, starting the season off unbeaten in 13 is incredibly impressive.
These Rays can go far. Very far. The most exciting thing about this team is just how dominant they have been compared to other ballclubs. Offensively, they lead the majors in Runs, Hits, Home Runs, On Base Percentage, and On Base plus Slugging. In fact, they lead in most offensive metrics available – usually by quite a sizeable margin. For example, the Rays have scored 101 runs according to MLB.com; the next best team is the Los Angeles Dodgers, with 79. On the other side of the ball, the Rays are also dominant. They lead the majors in ERA, runs allowed, home runs allowed, WHIP, and batting average against. In fact, the Rays have scored more home runs than allowed runs.
And it’s not like there has been just one or two contributors in the Rays lineup. The biggest strength of this team is the strength in depth. 9 Rays players have an OPS above .900, with four players having an OPS above 1.000. Brandon Lowe has quietly become one of the hottest hitters in the league, with a batting average of .310 and an OPS of 1.218. In any given game, on any given day, any given player on the lineup can be effective offensively – whether it be through walks or hits. In most games so far this season, it’s been multiple players who have had multiple hits during games. What makes this all the more impressive is that it is largely the same roster that was so anemic offensively last season. The difference is that the players keep talking about how “it feels different this season” and how the squad has more of a togetherness this year than the year just gone.
On the pitching side, both Drew Rasmussen and Jeffrey Springs in the ‘not top-10’* starting rotation have an ERA of 0.00 after two games a piece. Sadly for Springs, he’ll look like he’ll miss some time with a hand injury. Shane McClanahan could be a serious Cy Young contender and has had a similarly hot start to the season, with an ERA of 1.59 after three starts and no home runs allowed. Whereas in the hitting, you can expect a regression to the mean – it will be nigh-on impossible for the hitters to keep up the production they’ve had – the pitching, with Eflin and Glasnow healthy (as well as Springs), is arguably the best in Major League Baseball. This is still the biggest strength of this team.
Overall, maintaining health will be the key for the Rays to succeed this season. They’ve already shown an immense amount of quality thus far. They’ve been an offensive juggernaut that has thus far dominated all they’ve faced in every possible facet of the game. So how far can this team go? What they’ve accomplished so far isn’t sustainable, but with the team firing on all cylinders, there is no reason why this franchise can’t go all the way to the World Series this year. Before the start of the season, I expected this team to finish in a wildcard spot with around 90 wins. Now I think they can win the division and get a win total in the triple digits. Whether all this happens is a different question entirely. We are still early on in the season. This form could yet be a mirage, a mere hot streak that all teams go through at some point in their existence.
The upcoming series against the Toronto Blue Jays are going to be the real test. They are the first team the Rays will face that is a bonafide playoff contender. Rasmussen will take the mound on Friday evening against Jose Berrios. We have yet to see the starter for Saturday, but we know that McClanahan will be the starter for the Sunday matinee game. Away from home, this is where we could see the end of the winning streak. Even so, we could be looking at something special this season.
Stats taken from baseball-reference.com and MLB.com