Sorry Red Sox fans, the Rays aren't going anywhere

Rob Bradford
April 19, 2019 - 9:47 am

People want to find excuses for why the Rays have been so good and how the success might not be sustainable.

One of the most prevalent reasons given for Tampa Bay's initial burst against the big boys in the American League East is that maybe they're doing with the smoke and mirrors that come with being flooded with analytics. The Rays do, after all, have one of the smallest payrolls in the game but they do have one of the largest analytics departments.

Nice try.

"The analytics side I feel like we’re getting way more information over there than they’re getting," said former Ray and current Red Sox starter Nathan Eovaldi. "We’re doing the same things they’re doing over here."

OK, so if it's not just manipulating the system with numbers than how do we explain this 14-5 start for Kevin Cash's team, who head into its three-game series with the Red Sox carrying an eight-game lead over Boston? Maybe they're just good. It's time to accept that fact.

Since April 18, 2018, the Rays have as many regular season wins as the Red Sox and Yankees, having gone 100-64. During that stretch, Tampa Bay's starters carry the second-best ERA (3.19) in the majors. And over those 365 days, the offense has the second-highest batting average (.262) and on-base percentage (.337) in MLB.

And now they're adding to their arsenal by putting all kinds of pressure on their opponents via the running game, having totaled the third-most steals in the majors (19).

"When I was over there we expect to win the World Series. That’s our goal. Any time you have the group of guys, the payroll might not be there but obviously, they’re a good team, they enjoy playing together and have good chemistry," Eovaldi said. "Right now they’re firing on cylinders."

And while the Rays clearly found themselves as 2018 rolled along, it is what they have implemented the following season that has punctuated their existence.

Start with the two players they got for Chris Archer, starting pitcher Tyler Glasnow and outfielder Austin Meadows. Through the first 19 games, they would be in the conversation for Cy Young and MVP, respectively. Glasnow is 4-0 with a 1.13 ERA in his four starts, while Meadows has been a revelation in right field, hitting .365 with a 1.129 OPS, six homers and three stolen bases.

Charlie Morton, the Rays biggest free agent investment (2 years, $30 million), carries a 2.18 ERA in his four starts. Tommy Pham, who Tampa Bay acquired in a trade last July is hitting .286 with a .814 OPS. Yandy Diaz, the enormous third baseman nobody could figure out why didn't hit with any power while with Cleveland, now has four homers and a .898 OPS. Avisail Garcia was considered a top prospect when dealt from Detroit to Chicago in the three-way trade that brought Jake Peavy to Boston, but hadn't lived up to the billing. This year he has, hitting .311 with a .872 OPS.

Then there the players the Rays have drafted and developed, such as second baseman Brandon Lowe who Cash said in spring training has the potential to pop as many as 30 home runs. The rookie already has five.

And we haven't even mentioned Cy Young winner Blake Snell.

And when people want to crap on that idea of using relievers to serve as openers, they might want to think twice. What makes it work are the arms. The Rays are a lot of good ones up and down their active roster. One that might be familiar is former Red Sox Jalen Beeks, whose improved velocity has teamed with a changeup he's using a whole lot more to allow for a flurry of high-leverage relief outings.

Oh, and by the way, Tampa Bay has also found themselves one of the game's most feared conventional closers in Jose Alvarado. The 23-year-old is 4-for-4 in save opportunities while striking out 16 over 9 1/3 innings.

The moral of the story is that if the Red Sox are going to right their ship it's not going to be easy. They heading into play the best team in baseball.