For the second consecutive week, the Tampa Bay Rays sit atop the Internet’s most prestigious power rankings. It’s the middle of June. Let’s give them their due and sing their praises.
After going to the World Series last season, the Rays turned things over in the rotation, trading Blake Snell and letting Charlie Morton walk in free agency. There was some other roster shuffling as well and they lost top-shelf reliever Nick Anderson to a major injury before the 2021 season even started. Ji-Man Choi has missed most of the season with injuries, too.
It took them some time to get their feet under themselves. They were two games under .500 after May 1 and sitting at 19-19 after two straight losses to the Yankees in the middle of May.
And then, the proverbial switch was flipped.
The Rays have gone 23-5 since then. They’ve outscored their opponents 174-88 in those games. They are truly a “sum of their parts” team, as there very likely won’t be any All-Star starters from this group. Randy Arozarena is certainly good, but he’s not what he was for September and October last season. Tyler Glasnow is a frontline starter and Austin Meadows is a very good offensive weapon. Diego Castillo is a top-shelf reliever.
It’s just so much more than the big — modestly big, even — names.
Mike Zunino doing his thing behind the plate and slugging at it. Joey Wendle putting together an amazing season. Brandon Lowe slugging. Yandy Díaz getting on base. Brett Phillips coming through in the clutch.
How about the ageless Rich Hill? The bullpen work from the likes of Pete Fairbanks, Ryan Thompson, Andrew Kittredge and J.P. Feyereisen? It’s glorious.
No team embodies the “next man up” spirit more than the Rays as presently built. It seems like the organizational philosophy is to simply plug-and-play guys and see if it works, while knowing how to best use said players and get the most out of them. It doesn’t always work (see Yoshi Tsutsugo and the somewhat lackluster season by Michael Wacha), but it does more often than not.
It’s certainly all working for the Rays right now. They are the best team in baseball.