The Rays ARE Contenders

Despite now being D-less, the Rays are off to a hot start.

The Tampa {(Bay) Devil} Rays are currently allowing 4.0 runs per game!

This should be headline news because it’s quite a change from recent, and past, and the team’s entire, history.  Last season the Rays gave up a breathtaking 5.8 each contest.  Those nearly two runs a game the Rays have netted themselves have converted an MLB-worst .407 winning percentage into a nice .571 mark heading into the weekend’s matchup with the first place Red Sox, who rest just one half game ahead of these pesky sea creatures from the south.

While most will call Tampa’s early start a fluke, the team is not playing significantly above its collective head.  Last season the Bay Bashers scored 4.8 runs per game; they’re plating 4.8 thus far in 2008.  Furthermore, TB’s early season production shouldn’t drop significantly with Carl Crawford and Carlos Peña underperforming even their lowest expectations and the failure up the middle of Jason Bartlett and Akinori Iwamura, as well as the imminent return of the promising Rocco Bald…well, nevermind on the last one.  While Eric Hinske will surely tail off, he remains the lone Ray performing above his ability offensively.  The difference has clearly been the pitching–and there’s no fluke here either.

I guess it’s not so bad being a Rays fan after all.

The pen has been excellent, which is likely to change considering the nature of its make-up (mostly above-average vets pitching out of their minds), but excellent should merely fade toward quality.  The starting rotation has been mostly solid, highlighted by James Shields’ 2.54 ERA and 1.15 WHIP in 39 innings pitched and Edwin Jackson’s surprising 3.86 ERA in 30.1 innings.  This is a staff sure to face some growing pains–that’s what happens when James Shields is your rotation’s elder statesman at only 26. 

But, while regression can be expected from individual starters, there is reason to believe collective regression will not occur.  Scott Kazmir is set to make his first start of the season this weekend against Boston, whom he has routinely baffled, Matt Garza has missed signicant time and underperformed when on the mound, and a slew of pitching prospects continue to develop their repertoires in the minors (Jake McGee, Wade Davis, Jeff Niemann, David Price, et al).  

This year’s version of the AL East’s perennial doormat is fully capable of staying in the hunt until September, most likely ending the season between 80-85 victories and finishing third in the division.  But with the struggles in New York and Toronto, along with the inevitable fall from grace in Baltimore, Tampa could even sneak as high as second, finishing in the top half of baseball’s richest division for the first time in the team’s history.

Couple Tampa’s current success with impending arrivals of young talent the Mickey Mouse Club would envy (including the number one overall pick in the draft this summer), a stylish new ballpark on the horizon, and pillars entrenched at first, third, left, and center, and you’ve got yourself quite a future.  Now if they could only get this name business straightened out.

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One Response to The Rays ARE Contenders

  1. […] The Rays are contenders. Wait…the baseball team? And not people named Ray? […]

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