At the time of this writing on Wednesday afternoon, the Tampa Bay Rays were 11-0 through their first 11 games of the new MLB campaign (and they will probably be 12-0 after playing my underwhelming Red Sox Wednesday night). It’s been an impressive start to say the least, mostly because of the parody that comes with playing the sport of baseball — anything can happen on any given pitch, and due to that, replicating success on a routine basis is difficult to accomplish, especially at the highest level of play. Yet almost inexplicably, while every other Major League team has already lost at least three games, Tampa Bay keeps finding ways to keep the streak alive.
Perhaps the most integral aspect of the Rays’ success early in the season derives from the fact that they are receiving contributions up-and-down their roster. Instead of being a team with a clear identity — such as being known as a team that smacks lots of homers or a team that wins due to their pitching staff — Tampa Bay’s identity has become that they excel in every aspect of the game. As of Wednesday evening, the team leads in Major League Baseball in team earned run average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, on-base plus slugging, home runs and runs batted in. They are fifth in batting average with a mark of .283 as a unit, only seven batting average points behind the first-place Chicago Cubs. They’ve also struck out the least number of times amongst all 30 teams. Tampa’s pitching staff has allowed the fewest home runs in the Majors and opponents are hitting just .185 against them, both, again, tops in the league. On the defensive side of the ball, the Rays’ three errors this year tie them for the third-least number of errors.
It is difficult to attribute the team’s early success to one player because as it turns out, a handful of Rays have gotten off to sizzling starts to begin the year. On offense, Tampa Bay has five players who qualify to be statistical leaders (meaning they average over 3.1 plate appearances per game), and all five guys are batting over .300 to begin the season. Randy Arozarena tops the list with a batting average of .326, with Brandon Lowe, Isaac Paredes, Wander Franco and Yandy Diaz all following suit with marks of .321, .314, .311 and .303, respectively. All three players have already whacked multiple home runs (Arozarena’s two homers are the least of the group), while four of the five have already reached double-digit runs batted in (Diaz’s seven RBIs have been a solid contribution from the leadoff spot). In addition, all five players have an on-base percentage over .350 and slugging percentage over .530, both of which far outweigh the average on-base and slugging percentages among all 30 teams.
Outside of the team’s five qualified hitters, the offense continues to see contributions from the Ray’s plethora of depth. That includes Jose Siri, Josh Lowe and Taylor Walls, all three of whom are also batting over .300 on the young season. Siri’s eight runs batted in are one better than Diaz, despite Siri playing in only six games compared to Diaz’s nine. Lowe has been an extra-base machine, as the outfielder is tied for the team lead in doubles with Wander Franco (four). As a small-market team that continues to compete with their higher-budgeted competition, the Rays have made a habit of drafting well and finding unwanted talent and turning them into solid Major League players. In turn, Tampa’s offense has been perhaps the league’s best thanks to the outstanding depth that manager Kevin Cash has to work with. No matter who he’s slotted into the batting order, he’s experienced positive results.
On the bump, the Rays have been the league’s best when it comes to shutting down opposing offenses. As mentioned previously, Tampa’s pitching staff ranks first in the Majors in earned run average with a ridiculous mark of 1.73, just under .7 earned runs in front of the second-place Minnesota Twins. All four of the team’s qualified starters have ERAs below 3.27, giving Tampa Bay the luxury of rolling out a reliable starter on a regular basis. Drew Rasmussen and Jeffrey Springs have each pitched 13 innings apiece and neither have yet to allow a run, while Shane McClanahan has compiled an ERA of 1.59. All four of their starters, the other being Zach Eflin, have struck out more batters than they have innings thrown, meaning the Rays’ starters are averaging over a strikeout per inning. Not only are they keeping their opponents off of the basepaths by limiting the number of hits that they allow, but Tampa’s ability to strike opponents out has meant that their defense has faced few challenges over the first few weeks of the season. When it comes to the bullpen, the Rays still rank among the league’s best; they are second in MLB with a bullpen ERA of 1.58.
While winning streaks in baseball are always a thing to behold, it’s hard to question the legitimacy of Tampa Bay’s early-season success given the performances that the team has received from players up-and-down the roster. The Rays have made it a priority to be competitive year-in and year-out, regardless of who fills each position on the diamond. As a result, the team may have a few unrecognizable names on the roster and always seems to face the question of how competitive they will be in the American League East. If there was ever any question as to how competitive the Rays would be in 2023, the team has been quick to shoot those doubts down.