Tampa Bay Rays keep up best-in-bigs play into May

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American League East vernacular will always be articulated by the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox. The rivals have long been the dominant organizations that contend for the division title, and if they don’t, it’s their demise that becomes the topic.

This year, however, the surprising and talented Tampa Bay Rays have stolen the headlines after opening the campaign with a Major League best 21-12 record, through Sunday. Heading into their Interleague series with the Arizona Diamondbacks, the Rays held a two-game lead over the Yankees after going 5-3 during a 10-day road trip that toured through Boston, Kansas City and Baltimore and included three rainouts.

The crazy thing about this team, which has turned a rather low profit of $250 for $100 bettors because of several losses when laying bigger prices, is its unorthodox way of earning victories. No matter what you’re seeing, the Rays have found as many creative ways to win this season. And that’s what makes them dangerous, not to mention difficult to handicap.

Since last season, the Tampa Bay has been a team that’s been bullish with its bullpen starts, giving the nod to relievers for a lot of games. And even now, when you look at its rotation, there really is only three true starting pitchers on staff: Blake Snell, Charlie Morton and Tyler Glasnow.

And here’s where it gets scarier about a team building its staff success around the bullpen, the Rays led the majors with a 2.99 ERA. As of Monday, they were the only team that had a staff ERA lower than 3. It’s not surprising the relief staff has been just as stellar as the starting rotation, since they set the all-time MLB single-season record last season for most no-decisions by a starter (91) and most wins by a reliever (55).

Tampa Bay’s pitchers have done an excellent job at keeping the ball in the park, allowing just 31 home runs, tied for second-lowest in the bigs heading into their series with the Diamondbacks. And that’s saying something, considering March and April 2019 watched more balls leave the park – 1,144 home runs – than any month in baseball history. An average of 2.62 homers per game were hit, one of the highest monthly rates in Major League history.

Through Monday, the Rays were allowing an average of 0.93 per game.

And they’re not hitting many out, either, with just 39 of their own, an average of 1.18 per game.

Instead, they’re manufacturing runs with a steady diet of basehits, and thievery on the basepaths. Through Sunday’s games, Tampa Bay ranked 11th in batting average (.252), 14th in basehits (283), 13th in extra basehits (110) — including 13 triples, second-best in the bigs — and sixth in stolen bases with 22.

Their first seven games stayed under the posted total, and they won five of them. Since then, thanks to their offense coming to life, the Rays are 13-12-1 over after the final three games of their recent road trip stayed low.

This weekend the Rays entertain New York in an intriguing three-game set at Tropicana Field, a series they’ll be looking to infiltrate the A.L. East vernacular by making a statement in the teams’ first clash of the season.

Thursday

Miami Marlins at Chicago Cubs: I considered playing the underdog in this one, thinking the Marlins might stand a chance with the Cubs sending Yu Darvish to the hill. But given this is the end of a four-game set, and the Cubs have been playing much better, I’m going to play the total here.

Miami is handing the ball to Trevor Richards, and in the Windy City, I think he and Darvish are going to get knocked around pretty good. Richards is still looking for his first win of the season, as he’s 0-4 in seven starts. I wanted to give this kid the benefit of doubt, but I don’t see much improvement, as his ERA in his last four starts is 6.06. In facing one of the more prolific lineups in baseball, this will be a tough task.

As for Darvish, he’ll need the offense. The right-hander is just 2-3 on the year with a 5.79 ERA, and he’ll toe the slab with a 6.75 ERA in four career starts against Miami. Look for this matinee to go high. OVER

San Francisco Giants at Colorado Rockies: It’s rare I see something like this, but I love another total from the National League slate, as the San Francisco Giants and Colorado Rockies could get into slugfest at Coors Field.

The Giants hand the ball to Dereck Rodriguez, who is in after a brutal start last Saturday, when the Reds victimized him with his second straight loss. He allowed a career-high eight runs, including four home runs, over five innings against the Cincinnati Reds, and now you’re asking him to recover in Denver’s rarified air.

The Rockies, meanwhile, are turning to Kyle Freeland, who has lacked consistency in the two starts since returning from left middle finger blister. Freeland is one of Colorado’s better pitchers, but he makes costly mistakes up in the zone, which is probably why he is 2-5 and has a 5.90 ERA after seven starts. He has an ERA of 9.75 in his last two starts. Another matinee game for you, and another high-scoring affair. OVER

Friday

Seattle Mariners at Boston Red Sox: We’re likely going to see a big price with the Red Sox opening a three-game series with the Mariners. After all, the Mariners answered their 16-8 start to the season by losing nine of their next 12. Now they head into Fenway Park to face the defending World Series champs, who entered the week riding a 6-1 win streak.

The Red Sox were in last place in the American League East on April 19. On Monday they were sitting in third place as they headed into Baltimore to face the last-place Orioles. For the lid-lifter against the M’s, the Crimson Hose will turn to Eduardo Rodriguez, who breezed through his last start, against the Chicago White Sox, as his offense gave him plenty to work with after scoring 15 runs.

The left-hander pitched well over six innings, allowing just one run, striking out six and earning his third victory of the season. Look for Rodriguez to dominate and the Red Sox bats to come alive in what will be their first home game since May 1. RED SOX

Last week: 2-1

Season: 10-5

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About the Author

W.G. Ramirez

W.G. Ramirez is a 32-year veteran covering sports in Southern Nevada, and resident of 46 years. He is a freelance reporter in Las Vegas and the Southern Nevada correspondent for The Associated Press.

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