With the AL East turned upside down through the first ten games, can the Tampa Bay Rays sustain this fast start and win the division crown?
ST. PETERSBURG – Yeah, yeah it’s only 10 games out of 162. We know so you can stop with the eye-rolls. The reason it is worth noting that the Rays are 7-3 this early in the season is because of the franchise-worst start they had a year ago. On April 8, 2018 the scene looked and felt so much different. The Rays were 1-8 and in last place in the East. The Red Sox, who currently sit in last place battling out of their worst start in franchise history, are a bleak 3-8 coming off their World Series championship last season. Even the banged up Yankees who could put together an all-star team with their IL (that’s “injured list” for the folks new to baseball in 2019) are keeping their heads above water at 5-4 so far.
The last time the Rays made the post-season was 2013. That year, they didn’t see their record above .500 until May 11 (18-18).
Why they can sustain it
The pitching staff is absolutely nasty. Top to bottom. Rotation to whatever closer they bring on in the ninth. Through 10 games in 2019 it’s been as good as can be among all baseball, not just the AL.
MLB pitching ranks through 10 games:
ERA: 1.88 (1st)
K: 94 (6th)
Avg: .192 (3rd)
WHIP: 0.91 (1st)
Sustainable? Maybe not to those lengths. But LHP Blake Snell seems to be in Cy Young form following a less than satisfactory Opening Day. RHP Charlie Morton and RHP Tyler Glasnow have both been lights out behind him. The shocking success has been that of RHP Yonny Chirinos. He has all but cemented himself as the fourth starter after only three starters were named for the rotation ahead of Opening Day. In two starts so far, he has been dominant pitching 12 innings allowing just a single run and striking out 11, walking just one hitter.
This is quite a bit of good all at once for anyone to think something so drastic could happen to collapse this team out of a playoff race. Dare I say a division race, as well?
The offense is going to be scrappy and it has proven that so far. They aren’t gonna hit a lot of home runs but they’ve managed to string together good enough outputs to back their pitching on most nights. They’ve also been more aggressive on the bases. Before Monday’s matinee in Chicago, they were a perfect 10-for-10 swiping bags in 2019. Willy Adames struggled through the first week but his bat started to heat up a bit in San Francisco. Matt Duffy and Joey Wendle are on the IL but Daniel Robertson and Brandon Lowe are more than adequate guys to fill those at-bats along with the impressive starts by Yandy Diaz and Ji-Man Choi. Even Kevin Kiermaier has had a solid start at the plate and Tommy Pham has pushed his on-base streak to over 40 games.
Enjoy it while it lasts
The Red Sox won’t be in last place for long. It’s likely that by the time they come to Tropicana Field next weekend they’ll be closer to the top of the division than the bottom. As the Yankees get healthier over the next month or two, they’ll likely be in the mix, as well. The good news is the Rays are healthy and winning. Boston is healthy and struggling right now but that likely won’t last. Enjoy the early success while you can. There’s a very good chance you could enjoy it all the way through September. This team is having fun and winning ballgames right now despite their payroll and despite attendance at home.
Yes, it’s still way too early to crown them AL East champs. It’s probably still too early to say they’re a lock for even an AL Wild Card. It’s just 10 games out of 162.
But man it’s been a fun 10 games, hasn’t it?
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