Confident Rays unsurprised by excellent start to season
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — The roaming Tampa Bay Rays are running out of superlatives to describe baseball’s best start in more than three decades.
Remarkable, unbelievable, unbelievable – even insane – are words players have used to describe the dominant all-around team effort that led them to a 10-0 record that was the toast of the big leagues two weeks into the season is.
The Rays, who have made the playoffs for each of the last four years, expected a good performance.
But no one could have imagined that with the 1987 Milwaukee Brewers, the 1982 Atlanta Braves, the 1981 Oakland Athletics, the 1966 Cleveland Indians, the 1962 Pittsburgh Pirates and the 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers they would be the only clubs with double digits winning streaks would start the season. Of those teams, only the Dodgers won the World Series.
“Pretty exciting. When we do it the way we did, every facet of our game really performs, produces and contributes,” said manager Kevin Cash. “It doesn’t usually work that way.”
In Tuesday night’s home game against AL East rivals the Boston Red Sox, the Rays had hit 25 leading homers from the majors and outscored opponents 76-18 to complete baseball’s fastest escape since the ’87 Brewers 13 straight won to tie the 82 Braves for longest winning streak to start a season.
Tampa Bay won its first nine games by four carries or more, the longest such streak at any point in a season since the New York Yankees won ten straight streaks in 1939.
“Honestly, I don’t think we talked about it. We’re just here to play our baseball which is super team oriented. We just have fun together and go out and have a great time,” said ace Shane McClanahan.
“It’s fun to be in this clubhouse, to be honest, regardless of the streak,” McClanahan added. “I’m telling you the truth, that’s the last thing we’re worried about. … Some of what we do doesn’t matter, we have the same mentality out there.”
In addition to being red-hot at bats, pitching and defense were also outstanding, with No. 3 and No. 4 starters Jeffrey Springs and Drew Rasmussen each winning twice and going 13 scoreless innings in their first two games.
McClanahan, a first-time All-Star a year ago, is 2-0 with a 1.50 ERA in two starts, while Zach Eflin (2-0, 3.27) is offseason after signing a three-year $40 million contract -Dollar was impressive, which is the largest amount the budget-conscious Rays have ever awarded in free agency. Eflin was put on the injured list on Tuesday with back strains.
This group has also developed successfully without star right-hander Tyler Glasnow, who has been sidelined since spring training due to a left-diagonal strain.
Eflin and rookie Relief Kevin Kelly were the only new faces on opening day, so it’s no surprise that the pieces quickly came together.
“This is incredible baseball we’re playing,” said second baseman Brandon Lowe, whose eighth-inning homer beat Boston 1-0 Monday night. “We have to keep going.”
It’s not going to be easy, especially in the rough AL East where the defending champion Yankees and young, talented Toronto Blue Jays will once again be battling for playoff spots.
Tampa Bay won its first nine games against the bottom-ranked Tigers, Nationals and A’s, who went 8-22 Tuesday night.
However, regardless of the competition, it’s difficult to get 10 straight wins at any point in a season.
Offensively, Lowe and shortstop Wander Franco, 22, have gotten off to a strong start after being hampered by injuries for much of 2022.
Randy Arozarena, Harold Ramirez, Yandy Díaz, Manuel Margot and Josh Lowe were also instrumental in helping the Rays thrive from near-time production in a lineup that lost defensive genius Kevin Kiermaier, first baseman Ji-Man Choi and catcher Mike Zunino from last has season.
Brandon Lowe noted that similar to the Rays, the offense felt possible once all key components had recovered from injuries.
“It’s just nice to see it all coming together,” Lowe said.
“You’re doing something that hasn’t been done in a while. We can be proud of that,” said Cash. “The good thing about this club is that they win, they enjoy it and … they are ready (to play) the next day. They hold themselves to a high standard and want to be ready.”
The Rays also know it’s early.
“It feels good to come in here and celebrate. … But you know, we’re 16% done with the season, something like that,” said reliever Pete Fairbanks.
Three of the six teams that started at least 10-0 previously missed the postseason, so the hot start certainly doesn’t guarantee success in October.
“So there’s a lot of baseball to play and I don’t think we should go too high or too low after everything that’s happening in the first 10 days of March and April,” Fairbanks added. “But it’s a lot of fun to go out there and see what the guys are doing on offense and then watch our[pitchers]roll out our stuff.”
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