The Rays and their $74 million payroll are off to a ridiculous 13-0 start, annihilating every opponent in their path with 10 of their wins being decided by four or more runs. It’s an auspicious start, and one underpinned by more than simple good fortune over a handful of games. The Rays, Yankee fans may be troubled to learn, are both the real deal this season and poised to commit these types of atrocities to the AL East for some years to come.
For a start, the Rays were already pretty good. Kevin Cash’s club managed 86 wins and snuck in as the third wild card before losing to the Cleveland Guardians — despite missing arguably their two biggest offensive contributors for the majority of last season.
Highly-touted shortstop Wander Franco played just 83 games due to a broken hamate bone/hamstring injuries while Brandon Lowe — who slugged 39 homers in 2021 — appeared in just 65 games due to a stress reaction in his lower back.
Now their No. 2 and 4 hitters are healthy and setting the world on fire. Franco is 17-for-53 (.321) with four homers and 12 RBI while Lowe has put up 11-for-33 (.333) with five homers and 12 RBI. However, their offensive prowess doesn’t begin and end with two players. Lowe and Franco are just two of nine to have an OPS over .900 thus far including Randy Arozarena, Yandy Diaz and others.
Tampa Bay has cracked 32 homers as a team on the season, no other American League club has even reached 20 homers with the Orioles being the closest at 18.
Sure, their schedule has been light — to say the least — with most of their wins coming against arguably the three worst teams in baseball, the Nationals, the A’s and the Tigers. However, winning literally every baseball game you’ve played is worth consideration regardless of opponent, especially in the convincing fashion that the Rays have done so.
This team slugging at such a ridiculous rate is as surprising as it is unsustainable as the pesky small market club is usually known for an abundance of widely unknown pitchers tossing six-plus shutout innings as a starter or coming out of the bullpen blowing triple-digit sinkers — which is something they still possess.
Shane McClanahan has already established himself as an elite major league starter after posting a 2.54 ERA in 28 games last season. However, it’s the arms that come after him that have been a problem. Jeffrey Springs and Drew Rasmussen have surrendered one combined run in five starts between them while closer Pete Fairbanks’ ERA has also remained untouched in his four appearances. This is all before you get to Tyler Glasnow’s imminent return from an oblique injury.
That all adds up to a scary conclusion for the rest of the division: This isn’t coming out of nowhere. The Rays have won at least 86 games in each of the last four full seasons — not including their 40-20 season in 2020, which ended with a loss to the Dodgers in the World Series. They have spent decades now as the pesky Rays, designed to frustrate and embarrass big market teams for a year or two at a time. But what happens when the stars align and the little market’s designs put it in position for a prolonged run at the top?
There is a legitimate nucleus to this club that is under team control for the foreseeable future. The 22-year-old Franco inked a franchise-record 11-year, $182 million contract extension in Nov. 2021. Lowe is not a free agent until 2026 and Arozarena is there until 2027. McClanahan, 26, is also under team control until 2028.
Tampa’s farm system is also loaded with talent. According to MLB Pipeline, they own baseball’s fifth-best farm system with their top two prospects, pitcher Taj Bradley — No. 18 overall — and infielder Curtis Mead — No. 31 overall — expected to make contributions this season with Bradley already making his MLB debut (five innings, three runs and eight strikeouts) on Wednesday against the Red Sox. They also own two other Top 100 prospects in shortstop Carson Williams (No. 66) and first baseman Kyle Manzardo (No. 67).
As always, the only question about the Rays’ future regards the extent to which Erik Neander and his front office will be able to commit financially, however, there aren’t many checks left to write in the foreseeable future.
Every single one of their players on the 26-man roster is under team control until at least 2025, which bodes well for a team whose largest free-agent contract in franchise history was the $40 million over three years they gave to Zack Efflin this past offseason.
The attention, and rightfully so, has gone to the 13 straight wins — which ties the 1982 Atlanta Braves and 1987 Milwaukee Brewers for the best start — to begin the season. However, there may be something bigger developing as they have the makings of unseating the Astros as the new long-term problem in the American League.
Source: Berkshire mont
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