The Tampa Bay Rays are doubted by many baseball fans every year, and 2020, a year marked by COVID-19, is no different. However, with the MLB playoffs creeping up on baseball fans, the Tampa Bay Rays stand not only on top of an A.L. East division that features an impressive New York Yankees lineup, but they also stand on top of the entire American League at 40-20. With a .667 win percentage, only an outstanding and star-studded Los Angeles Dodgers team features a better win-percentage at .717 and a record at 43-17. The questions on the minds of baseball fans are obvious. How is the underdog team from Tampa, Florida, that wasn’t slated to be at the top of their division, now sitting at first in the entire American League, and how will they do in their quest for a World Series trophy?
One word: consistency. Throughout the entire season, the Rays have dismantled teams even on the road, as seen by a 9-1 road trip, one of the best in franchise history when they faced the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees and Baltimore Orioles. That 9-1 road trip included a sweep of the Yankees that moved them into first place, where the team stayed for the rest of the season. A 21-9 home record shows even more consistency when they return to face opponents. Even though Tampa Bay may be playing away from home for the postseason, they have shown that their team can hit in any ballpark and will step up in any moment. However, not all praise should fall on the players.
Kevin Cash has been extremely impressive as a manager this season. Injuries starting pre-season have made it tough to put out a solid lineup on both offense and defense. Five players, including players comparable to All-Star Austin Meadows, were sidelined due to COVID-19. Despite getting every player back for the start of the season, injuries continued to surface. Still, Cash has made the absolute best of not only a weakened lineup in general, but an injury-riddled bullpen that managed to lead the league in saves through the COVID-19 shortened season.
Right-handed Nick Anderson heads the Tampa Bay bullpen. He was acquired from the Miami Marlins last year and has been extremely solid this year despite a minor inflammation injury in late August. Aside from Anderson, the whole bullpen has been extremely impressive. Diego Castillo and John Curtiss have assisted in a dangerous bullpen that will help keep the Rays safe in late-game situations. This allows the Rays starters to feel less pressured to go late into games and feel comfortable giving the ball to a bullpen that has proved it can get the team a win.
Before the bullpen steps on the mound, you need some lethal pitching to start the game, and Tampa Bay has those weapons. The first pitcher in the rotation, who will be starting Game 1 for Tampa, is the always consistent and former Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell. While Snell isn’t putting up those Cy Young numbers he had in 2018, a 4-2 record with a 3.24 ERA signifies consistent production you can count on for Tampa Bay as they journey through the MLB playoffs. Next on the list is Tyler Glasnow, who has pitched relatively well this season for the Rays with a 5-1 record, a 1.13 WHIP and 91 strikeouts this regular season. However, the most surprising of these pitchers is rookie Josh Flemming, who despite getting called up on Aug. 23, has pitched like one of the best on the team with a perfect 5-0 record and a 1.08 WHIP this season. Flemming could easily provide some quality pitching for this Rays’ squad despite just entering the league with Tampa. Finally, veteran Charlie Morton has provided some valuable veteran experience for the Rays team that looks to win its first World Series title in franchise history.
Switching away from pitching, when Tampa picks up the bat, their best player has been the second baseman, Brandon Lowe. Lowe has broken out this season with 14 home runs, 37 RBIs and a .554 slugging percentage. He has helped carry the Tampa offense and assisted in clutch situations to cement himself an impressive season. Looking through the offense, Willy Adames starts at shortstop, Joey Wendle plays at third base, Mike Zunino at catcher, a combination of Kevin Kiermaier, Manuel Margot and Randy Arozarena in the outfield and at first base and Yandy Díaz as the designated hitter. The Rays have put out some unique lineups with this set of players, including the first only left-handed lineup in MLB history. While Tampa may not have the flashiest lineup in the league, they come out and manage to find offense from someone. Anyone can get hot on the team including Joey Wendle, who, as injuries stack up for Tampa, has gotten more at-bats and is on an eight-game hitting streak batting .464 during a great stretch of offense. Tampa will most certainly need this type of hitting as it advances as a serious contender this postseason.
Who does this Rays lineup have to play in the first round of the playoffs? A Toronto Blue Jays team with a pitching rotation headed by Hyun Jin Ryu, an offense headed by the young Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and a mediocre bullpen. Does this team have the talent to go up against this Rays lineup? Absolutely. The Blue Jays have consistent offense coming in from hitters like Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette and Gurriel. Ryu has continued to be great for the Blue Jays, and the pitching rotation has been fairly solid this year. However, it will be very difficult to go up against this Rays lineup that was third in ERA in the league, sixth in strikeouts and tied for fifth in WHIP. Snell is extremely favorable against the Blue Jays with 2.81 ERA in 13 career starts against the ball club. For the Rays, it will come down to their pitching and bullpen work that has made it easier for the offense to continue hitting the ball well.
For Tampa, they have proven time and time again this season they can hang with the big teams. The statistics, the leadership and the attitude of Tampa Bay are all there for a deep postseason run for a World Series ring. MLB fans are starting to tune in to an extremely underrated Rays team as they embark on their postseason journey. The Rays will certainly be making some noise in these playoffs and for years to come with how the team has been constructed. It’s evident that baseball has one message for the fans of America’s pastime: Watch out for the Tampa Bay Rays.