The Tampa Bay Rays have the best record in baseball early in 2019 and a wave of people still don’t think they have a chance to win the division. With the Yankees and Red Sox getting off to slow starts, the Rays have capitalized and are trying to create a wide gap between those teams in the division race. Do the Rays have a real chance to win the division and compete for a title in 2019?
Yes, the Rays won 90 games last year and have improved in a lot of ways with the first is starting pitching. Blake Snell is proving last year wasn’t a fluke. Snell is 2-1 with a 2.16 ERA in 25 innings with 36 strikeouts. He has a 197 ERA+ which though is only 25 innings, is still good. He is the ace of the staff and is looking to repeat as a CY Young winner.
Charlie Morton was one of the best moves the Rays have made in years and he is off to another great start. In 4 starts he’s 2-0, with a 2.18 ERA with 25 strikeouts in just under 21 innings. Morton brings a veteran presence to a young pitching staff that will be needed as the Rays look to move into contention.
Rounding out the rotation of starting pitchers is Tyler Glasnow, who has come into his own this year with Tampa Bay. Glasnow has won all of his 4 starts and pitched to an impressive 1.18 ERA in those starts. More impressive is his 8-1 K/BB ratio that he has amassed in his 24 innings pitched. He has the highest WAR value according to baseball reference amongst the 3 Rays starters and that should tell you just how good he’s been.
Tampa Bay’s bullpen is still rock solid. Ryne Stanek remains the opener with already 3 games started. He has a 2.16 ERA in 8.1 innings pitched. He also has 10 strikeouts and only 2 walks. He and Yonny Chirinos make spot starts as part of the Rays “opener strategy” Chirinos can usually work multiple innings whereas Stanek will hand the ball off to Ryan Yarbrough. However, the real strength of the Rays bullpen is at the back end with Jose Alvarado and Diego Castillo.
Both have been fantastic to start the season. They have a combined 18.1 innings pitched and have given up just 7 hits, walked 7, and struck out 23. Hitters are hitting .106 against the two of them and have struck out in almost 40% of the at-bats against them. Neither has allowed an earned run and are 6/6 in saves. They will each be used to close out games depending on the matchups. Alvarado has more appearances in the 9th inning already and will most likely be the main closer but Castillo could still see time there.
The offense averages around 4.82 runs per game which isn’t stellar but is still solid. Austin Meadows has led the offensive push of the team. He’s currently hitting .350 with 6 home runs and 17 RBI. He is slugging over .700 and has a 1.126 OPS. He has a .459 wOBA and a 202 wRC+ according to Fangraphs. One thing the Rays do well is get on base. As a team, they have a .340 OBP. Tommy Pham leads the team in walks with 13 and is 2nd on the team in OBP with a .395 rate.
When the Rays get on base, they are quick to take another bad where they can. They have 18 stolen bases in 21 attempts this year. Only the Kansas City Royals and Seattle Mariners have more stolen bases, but they don’t do it as effectively as the Rays do.
The Rays are pair a great pitching staff, that features only 3 guys over the age of 30, with a patient offense. As of Monday, their positive 40 run differential is the best in baseball and it’s no fluke. This team will compete for the rest of the year. The true challenge will come once the Yankees are back at full strength as they have a record number of players on the IL. Boston may right the ship, though it’s looking like it may be time to hit the panic button, and they will challenge the Rays too. Tampa Bay could be the representative for the AL in the fall classic, and that should surprise nobody.