The Rays Can’t Be Stopped
The Rays go for history
With a win this afternoon against the Red Sox (1:10 p.m. ET on MLB Network, depending on regional availability), the Rays would equal the longest winning streak to begin a season in modern MLB history. Last night’s win over Boston was Tampa Bay’s 12th in a row, putting them one game behind the 1982 Braves and ’87 Brewers, which won 13 in a row to open the season. (The St. Louis Maroons of the Union Association won 20 in a row to open the 1884 season.)
Most of the team’s wins have been pretty comfortable (the Rays are outscoring their opponents by 65 runs so far this season, for an average margin of victory of 5.4 runs), but last night’s game was a back-and-forth battle. The scheduling starting pitcher, Zach Eflin (whose three-year, $40 million contract he signed this offseason is the biggest free-agent deal in franchise history), was placed on the injured list with a back issue, so the team called up top prospect Taj Bradley to make his major league debut. Bradley gave up three runs on five hits and struck out eight over five innings of work. The Rays were up 8–3 when Jalen Beeks replaced him in the top of the sixth. But a three-run home run by Rafael Devers off Colin Poche in the seventh cut the Tampa Bay lead to 8–7. The Rays held on, though, as their excellent bullpen closed the door.
“I think we’re putting everything together,” catcher Christian Bethancourt said after the game. “We’re trying our best to be the best version of ourselves. We’re not being selfish. We’re just keeping the line going offensively. Pitching-wise, they’re doing an outstanding job. And hopefully we can continue and we can get where we want to be, which is the World Series.”
The Rays are dominating in all facets of the game. They lead the league in both runs scored (7.67 per game) and team ERA (2.17). They’ve hit a major-league-leading 30 home runs as a team and have a team OPS of .945 (87 points higher than the second-place Dodgers). Opponents are batting just .194 against Rays pitching, which is tied with the Twins for the best in the bigs.
There’s a lot to like about this Rays team. Wander Franco is knocking the cover off the ball the way he was expected to when he was a top prospect. Outfielders Josh Lowe and Randy Arozarena are also off to hot starts at the plate. Pitchers Jeffrey Springs (who gets the start this afternoon) and Drew Rasmussen have not allowed a run in either of their two starts. Closer Pete Fairbanks has had four scoreless appearances, and reliever Garrett Cleavinger has had five without an earned run.
The Rays weren’t expected to win the AL East this season. Before the season, FanGraphs projected them to finish third in the division behind the Yankees and Blue Jays with about 86 wins, giving Tampa Bay a 19.6% chance of winning the division and a 61.3% chance of making the playoffs. But after the hot start, FanGraphs now projects the Rays to win about 94 games and has them as the favorites in the division (53.5% chance to win it along with a 93.7% chance to make the playoffs).
But at the same time, the track record for teams with lengthy season-opening win streaks is a mixed bag. Of the six modern teams that previously began the season with winning streaks of at least 10 games, three of them missed the playoffs. One of them was the 1987 Brewers, which had a stretch in May where they went 2–18. By July 8, they’d fallen below .500, although they’d finish at 91–71.
A baseball season is a series of streaks, so who knows how this one will turn out for the Rays? But right now, they’re the best team in baseball.