Tampa Bay Rays hot start

Through a month of play, they are the class of the MLB.


Caption: Willy Adames and Kevin Kiermaier celebrate a series sweep of the Red Sox. Photo provided by valleymorningstar.com

Bennett Carollo, Staff Writer

Although it’s only been a month, the Tampa Bay Rays have far and away exceeded expectations to start their 2019 season. These expectations were reasonably high, as well, with the club coming off a 90-win 2018 campaign. Thus far, Kevin Cash and Co. have clearly been up to the task, having posted an MLB best record of 19-9 as of April 30th and made a habit of being at the top of the AL East.

The Rays season began quietly, with a 5-1 defeat to the Houston Astros on Opening Day on March 28th. All Tampa Bay would do after that is win the next three games over the Astros and the next five series, compiling a dazzling 14-4 record going into the final game of a series with the Baltimore Orioles on April 18th. However, it was at this point when the Rays were met with some early season adversity. They would drop that series finale to Baltimore before being swept by the struggling, but still defending, World Series champion Boston Red Sox at home. Not to mention, the team’s injuries began to pile up, with star pitcher Blake Snell missing a start, infielder Joey Wendle out indefinitely, and offensive powerhouse Austin Meadows set to miss a month. The agonizing part about the losses to the Red Sox weren’t that they were simply at the hands of a division rival, but that Tampa Bay lost all three games by a combined four runs, as the bullpen and late inning offense failed to come through. Fortunately, they would get another crack at Boston soon after.

The Rays followed the disappointing Boston series by taking two of three from the Kansas City Royals and, sure enough, their next road trip began with a visit to Fenway Park to catch up with those Red Sox. Team leader and centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier said before the series that “It’s an important series for us getting revenge and proving to ourselves we can still beat the best teams in baseball.” After the first game was postponed due to weather, Tampa Bay eked out a 2-1 win behind a strong performance from starting pitcher Charlie Morton on Saturday. The Rays accomplished their revenge by also taking the Sunday game, 5-2, to complete a two-game sweep and put some distance between them and Boston, who are 7.5 games back of the AL East-leading Rays as of April 30th. More of a concern to the Rays at the moment are the red-hot New York Yankees, who are 9-1 in their last ten games and have closed to within two games of the division lead. Tampa Bay will get its first look at the Yanks when they come to the Trop from May 10th through the 12th for an intriguing weekend series.

There is still a long way to go in the 2019 season, 134 games and five months to be exact, but the Rays have, at the very least, proven that they will be in AL East conversation. Stellar pitching has been a large reason for their success, with starters Blake Snell, Charlie Morton, and Tyler Glasnow all excelling. The bullpen has looked admittedly shaky as of late, but there is plenty of time for elite-potential guys like Jose Alvarado and Diego Castillo to get back on track. The offense has also been sporadic at times, but the likes of Tommy Pham, Austin Meadows, Brandon Lowe, and Yandy Diaz give Rays fans something to be excited about with their combination of power and the ability to get on base. Stay tuned for what should be an exciting season for the Tampa Bay Rays.