The Tampa Bay Rays have been a true surprise to start off the season. While the Rays have always boasted the reputation of a scrappy team that finds ways to win and make it to the postseason, they have truly exceeded many people’s expectations to begin the season. Starting the season an incredible 13-0, many people would chalk the Rays up as locks to win the AL East and, possibly, the pennant. However, a weak opening schedule and some terrible performances against quality teams have people wondering whether the Rays are contenders or pretenders. Well here at What You Expect, we are going to break down whether the Rays are the real deal or just flash in a pan.
The Rays boast one of the best three starters in baseball when healthy. McClanahan, Glasnow, and Rasmussen are three fearsome pitchers that can shut down any lineup whenever they want. In fact, taking the pitching staff as a whole, the Rays rank first in the entire MLB with a collective ERA of 2.81 (the next closest is the Astros at 3.26).
The bullpen especially represents a strength for the Rays. Known for taking trash and turning it into treasure, the Rays have excelled at taking “bad” bullpen arms and turning them into stars. A prime example of this can be seen in Jason Adam. Before his time with the Rays, Adam posted an ERA of 4.44 with the Cubs and 6.12 with the Royals. He was the definition of an average to below average reliever. However, in over 60 innings pitched and counting for the Tampa Bay Rays, Jason Adam has posted an ERA of 1.61. And Adam isn’t the only refurbished darling the Rays have constructed, Pete Fairbanks, Garret Cleavinger, and countless others have seen an absolutely stunning turnaround in their careers after joining the Rays. Its safe to say that this Rays team’s pitching is legit and presents a strong case for them to be contenders.
Pretenders: Inconsistent hitting
It was their Achilles’ heel last year, and it could very well be their big weakness this year. The limitations of money and small markets have often left the Rays with a shortage of reliable bats to rely on come October. We can all remember that wildcard series with Cleveland from last year where the Rays only managed 9 hits in two games. The offense hampered an elite pitching team from advancing in the postseason and could potentially do the same this year.
However, this Rays team looks like they are REALLY different. This year they have started the season boasting a team OPS of 0.872 which is 70 points higher than the next closest the Pittsburgh Pirates (who are having an excellent start to the year as well). They have scored a league-high 186 runs and register the most hits and highest OBP out of anyone in baseball. They also register the second highest hard hit percentage coming behind only the Atlanta Braves. Basically this team hits the ball hard the most often in baseball, hits the ball most often in baseball, and score runs more often than anyone in baseball. While it is still barely a month into the season, the Rays’ approach to the plate looks like it has vastly improved from last year. While only time can tell if they can keep this up, the Rays have the opportunity to turn their “inconsistent hitting reputation” into a thing of the past.
The Rays have been and continue to be an excellent fielding team. To begin the year, they boast the highest Defensive Efficiency of 0.737 and have the lowest Runs Allowed Per Game of 2.86. Led by numerous skilled defensive players such as Jose Siri and Taylor Walls, this lineup may not boast a litany of Gold Gloves, but they make the plays they are suppose to make and couple that surprise you as well. This is probably the simplest aspect of the Rays and one that can be pretty concisely put that they are elite at.
No matter how talented a team is, if the starters cannot stay on the field, it becomes really hard to win. The Rays saw it last year and could potentially see it this year. They have already seen Tyler Glasnow begin the season on the IL after suffering an oblique injury in late February and have lost promising young starter Jeffery Springs to Tommy John. The Rays have had a penchant for getting banged up in recent years and, should this trend continue, the Rays could see some problems come October.
However, the one promising notion is that the Rays are a team that is known for its depth. The organization has found ways time and time again to take what they have in its system and churn out usable replacements. Time will tell if this Rays team can stay healthy enough to take the field in October. But if they can, they present a case as true contenders.
The Rays are a team that doesn’t have the star power or the flashy cash like its divisional rivals the Yankees or the Red Sox. But the team’s disciplined approach and phenomenal development staff have churned out what could potentially be one of the best teams in baseball. Right now the Rays sit at +750 to win the World Series (FanDuel) and +350 to win the American League (FanDuel).