The Tampa Bay Rays have had the hottest start in the Major Leagues with a 20-4 record, leading the American League East division.
Last season, the Rays finished 3rd in the American League East with a 86-76 record. It was definitely a setback from two seasons ago where they won the division and totaled 100 wins. The team had a fairly quiet off-season, however they added SP Zach Eflin on a 3-year, $40 million contract. Additionally, they added OF Ben Gamel on a minor league deal which gives them another solid option against right-handed pitching as he bats left-handed. Coming into the season, the Rays had the third-best odds to win the AL East, tied for fifth-best odds to win the American League Pennant and tied for 12th-best odds to win the World Series. In spite of that, their MLB record-tying 13-0 start definitely made some heads turn and changed expectations on how the Rays season will play out.
With their sizzling 13-0 record to open the season, the Rays have seen success on both sides of the ball. The last team to open the season with 13 straight wins was the ’87 Milwaukee Brewers. The Rays rotation is led by lefty Shane McClanahan has the sixth best ERA in the league at 1.86. He also had a 1.03 WHIP and a .176 opponent batting average. Last season, McClanahan finished at sixth place in the AL Cy Young race, putting him at the near top of American League pitchers. Jeffrey Springs is another part of Tampa Bay’s dominant pitching as he had the second-highest WAR on the team in 2022. If his excellent stats of 2022 are carrying over to this season as well, the Rays will be dangerous for opponent hitters to go against. Tampa Bay overall led the majors in ERA at 2.82 with the Houston Astros sitting at second with a 3.30 ERA.
Something that can potentially keep the Rays on top and frontrunners for the World Series is monster right-handed pitcher Tyler Glasnow. Although, he has yet to see the mound this season due to an oblique strain he suffered before the season commenced. Having one of the highest strikeout rates in MLB when he’s healthy, Glasnow can be a force for the Rays through the season and help get them to October. The right-handed pitcher was given a 6-8 week timetable back in February. There has been no recent update on when Glasnow will make his long-awaited return, but it is pretty clear that the ace has been recovering well. He has been long tossing from 120 feet and throwing bullpen sessions will be the next step. Glasnow’s return will be a major boost for the Rays once he gets back in his groove in the Ray’s already dominating rotation.
The Rays’s pitching has started off strong, yet their hitting has been even stronger. Per MLB, The Rays are first in runs with 157, home runs with 48, batting average at .282, on-base percentage at .355, and slugging at .523 which are all about 80 points higher than the next-best team in the league. They have many anchors in the lineup including Wander Franco and Randy Arozerena. Manager Kevin Cash has a ton of other options that he chooses for the field and to support the offense on a daily basis.
Wander Franco is the future of the Tampa Bay Rays. On June 20, 2021, Franco got called up to make his major league debut. However, he played for only half the season in 2022. In that time, he contributed six homers, 33 RBI, and a batting average of .277 which is far from his potential capabilities as shortstop for Tampa Bay. Something that makes Franco stand out is his elite plate discipline which gives him an immense amount of opportunities to put the ball in play. He could be one of the best contact hitters in baseball this season alongside Mets second baseman Jeff McNeil and Marlins second baseman Luis Arraez. With his low strikeout rate and a stellar baseball IQ, Franco could have a potential MVP candidate season in his near future. A solid goal for him this season for the Rays would be to reach the 20 HR mark which would be a significant help for Tampa Bay’s offense.
Tampa Bay has a +88 run differential which leads the MLB. The Texas Rangers are second best with +60 and only one other team is even better at +27. The Rays started the season with an undefeated 11-0 record; 10 out of those 11 wins were by at least four runs which shows their consistent offensive abilities.
The Rays are known for their low payroll and their disadvantage to play against the big-market teams as their abilities to keep star talent filled on their roster just does not compare. For instance, in 2020, the Rays fell to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series, one of the most valuable organizations in the league. Nonetheless, Tampa Bay definitely has depth that could allow them to remain a powerhouse team all season long and potentially lead them to the World Series. Players like Brandon Lowe and Manuel Margot definitely get the job done for the Rays and are much less costly, unlike most of the other teams in the league. The Rays also have one of the strongest farm systems in the MLB that continues to produce Top 100 players. Per MLB, they are currently ranked at No. 6 out of all 30 organizations. They have one of the best track records for developing young players into stars or even just solid players that have successful careers in the major leagues.
It’s safe to say that the Tampa Bay Rays have earned some respect and shifted some of the World Series odds after the first three weeks of the MLB regular season. If they continue their offense and defense surges throughout the season, they will definitely be the team to beat and front runners for bringing home the World Series title at the end of October.