Jay Dieffenbach of the Arizona Republic has an interesting piece on the young season’s surprising and disappointing teams.
The calendar flips into May this week, and with that, the baseball season moves from “it’s early” to “maybe that’s how good they’re going to be.”
After running through a few hot and cold teams, he asks:
…does anyone believe that this is the season the Tampa Bay Rays finish at .500 or better?
[Raises hand, and right eyebrow.] Um, I do.
Why not? Their best slugger had 46 homers last year. That was more than anyone else in the AL East, save A-Rod. Their best pitcher led the league in K’s. And that was last year, when they lost more games than any other team in MLB. This year, they’ve still got those guys—Carlos Pena and Scott Kazmir—though Kazmir has yet to join the big-league club this year. But even without their ace, the Rays already have the second-best ERA in the American League and they’re tied for first in batting average allowed. And frankly, I don’t think it’s a fluke. The Red Sox came into the Trop this weekend with the hottest offense in baseball: three of the top five batting averages in the AL belonged to Boston hitters, and the Sox had scored an average of 6.4 runs per game in their last two series. Boston leads the league in runs scored, OBP, and total bases. Yet the Tampa Bay pitchers limited the juggernaut to a measly five runs over three games.
The Rays swept Boston and now sit atop the AL East standings. Will they still be there in September? I don’t think so. But they’re 10 and 6 in the division so far. They’ve got the AL East’s best run differential, with 17 more runs scored than allowed, and they’ve got their pitchers to thank for it—not just their young starters, but their stingy bullpen as well. I can’t remember a Tampa Bay team with pitchers like this. And when throw in hitters like Pena, BJ Upton, Carl Crawford, and the hotly anticipated Evan Longoria, you know they’re going to score some runs, too.
So maybe this is how good they’re going to be. The rest of the AL East had better pick up the pace.