The Rays Wins - Not The Sox Losses - Were This Weekends Story
Two of Major League baseballs main headlines after this weekend’s series were the Yankees sweeping the lowly Baltimore Orioles and the Red Sox being swept by the Tampa Bay Rays.
Part of the relevance of these two headlines is the implication that the Yankees are making the American League East division a race again and that the “lowly Rays” upended a juggernaut like the 2018 Boston Red Sox.
One of the assumptions the media is making by placing the Sox sweep as one of the top headlines of the weekend rather than a subordinate note at the end of a weekly summary is that, not only were the Red Sox swept, but they were swept by the “lowly” Tampa Bay Rays.
The assumption that the Rays are “lowly” and that they were able to be David to the Red Sox Goliath is what I found much more interesting. The impact of the headline is diminished if readers realize that the Rays aren’t “lowly,” which they aren’t.
The Yankees sweeping the Orioles is worth a mention, but playoff teams are supposed to sweep cellar dwellers like the Orioles, who have won 38 games and are 41 games out of the Wild Card, opposed to the Yankees, who have 83 wins and a 45 game lead on the “lowly” Orioles in the win column.
The Rays on the other hand are 8.5 games out of the Wild Card, have a .534 winning percentage, a 70-61 record and have won eight straight. The Red Sox certainly look like a Goliath, but the Rays are not a David. They aren’t the little Tampa Train that could. This is a good team, getting better, that’s being eclipsed because they are in a division with two great ones.
The Rays would be a division contender if that division was the American League Central and their competition was the 74-56 Cleveland Indians or if it was the National League East and their opponents were the 73-57 Atlanta Braves or the 70-61 Philadelphia Phillies. They would be right in the mix if they played in the National League West where the Arizona Diamondbacks lead the division with a 72-59 record.
The Rays have a Cy Young candidate in Blake Snell, who ranks third in ERA and seventh in WHIP. Chris Archer returned quite a haul for the Rays at the trade deadline, but Snell has been their best pitcher in 2018 and it hasn’t been close.
Snell is only slightly behind Sale in the majority of the metrics used to evaluate who deserves the Cy Young (2.05 ERA for Snell vs. 1.97 for Sale and .99 WHIP for Snell vs. .85 for Sale) and he has four more victories than Sale in spite of the Rays having 20 fewer than the Red Sox.
I don’t believe wins should be relevant in deciding the Cy Young, but the fact of the matter is that it does, and if Chris Sale is a serious Cy Young candidate in spite of the low innings pitched total, then Snell and his higher win total is too. And if the ratios remain extremely close, those additional wins for a significantly less dominant team is where the argument for Snell over Sale becomes a compelling one.
As a team, the Rays have allowed the fewest earned runs (59) and have the lowest team ERA (2.49) and WHIP (.98) in all of baseball for the month of August. Post All Star break, they rank tied for fourth in WHIP (1.17) and tenth in team ERA (3.52), while ranking third in the American League behind the surging Oakland A’s (3.17), the dominant Boston Red Sox (3.38) and the Central Division leading Cleveland Indians (3.47).
On the season, the Rays have a winning record against the Yankees, Indians and the Oakland Athletics and they are 23-22 against the Red Sox, Yankees, Astros and A’s combined.
Offense is an issue for the Rays and it will remain a problem until they draft and develop or trade some of their excess pitching for better sluggers. They acquired Mallex Smith from the Atlanta Braves, C.J Cron from the Los Angeles Angels, Willy Adames in the David Price trade from the Detroit Tigers and Austin Meadows from the Pirates in the Chris Archer trade, but even those players aren’t enough to compete for the AL East title when the Red Sox have Mookie Betts, J.D. Martinez and Andrew Benintendi while the Yankees have Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Didi Gregorius and Gleyber Torres locked up for awhile.
On the season, Mallex Smith is batting .308 with a .377 OBP in 116 games played. He hasn’t shown Carl Crawford’s power, which was overrated during his prime, but Crawford only had four career seasons with an OBP over .340, three of .355 or better and he never had an OBP comparable to what Smith has this season. If he can be the “next Carl Crawford” or something in the vicinity of that kind of contributor then they have a nice piece to work around. C.J. Cron has 24 home runs and a .795 OPS in 115 games played while Jake Bauers has flashed some pop with nine home runs and a .729 OPS in 69 games as a rookie.
I am not trying to make the argument that the Rays are on their way to potentially competing for the World Series, but they are not “the lowly Rays” in 2018 and fans need to realize that. In August, they are 16-8, buoyed by their eight game winning streak. During that stretch they are 2-1 against the Yankees and 4-2 against the Red Sox and they are doing it with pitching.
Going forward, whether they continue to do it with starters like Snell, Tyler Glasnow (acquired in the Chris Archer trade with the Pittsburgh Pirates), Jacob Faria, Brent Honeywell (missed 2018 with Tommy John surgery), Shane Baz (acquired as the player to be named later in the Chris Archer trade) or they stick with or adopt variations of their “bullpening” approach from this season, it is how the Rays are remaining competitive and will going forward.
The Rays have the pitching to either trade from depth or keep and compete and they have made some prudent trades to add offense at the fringes. The next phase needs to be adding impact offensive players. Smith, Adames, Austin Meadows, to some degree C.J. Cron and possibly Jake Bauers could become those guys, but they need the next Evan Longoria and Carlos Pena who had his flaws, but who hit a lot of home runs for contending Rays teams in the franchises more successful seasons.
Wander Franco is looking like a potential star in the Ozzie Albies mold while Jesus Sanchez is exciting prospect analysts with his power/speed combination as a possible middle-of-the-order offensive weapon. If they continue to develop the Rays become a very interesting, talented young major league roster.
The Rays surprised the baseball world by dominating a juggernaut Red Sox squad this weekend, but we shouldn’t be floored like it was Buster Douglas knocking out Mike Tyson for Boxing’s World Heavyweight Title. Rays fans as well as baseball ones should take it as an announcement that the Rays aren’t a doormat. If you want to laugh at someone, sneak a peek at the Baltimore Orioles who appear completely lost or the Kansas City Royals who look bad at the major league level and thin on stars at their minor league ones.