If there have been a strategy to quantify what makes a group attention-grabbing, the Tampa Bay Rays would discover it. Possibly they have already got. They play as if trapped in a enjoyable home mirror, wacky and warped and wondrously bizarre — and all the time greater than they seem.
The Rays introduced their slingshots to Yankee Stadium on Monday for a four-game collection with the paper giants of the Bronx. The Rays gained, after all, 3-1, and now have baseball’s finest document, at 35-20. They’re making a behavior of humbling the Yankees.
“I’d be mendacity if I mentioned all of us didn’t get a little bit extra amped up for a collection with the Yankees,” heart fielder Kevin Kiermaier mentioned on Monday morning. “Good enjoyable.”
Kiermaier is the one Rays participant making greater than $6.5 million this season. The Yankees have 10, however stand 5 and a half video games behind Tampa Bay within the American League East. The Rays have gained 16 of their final 17 video games general, and — together with final fall’s division collection — 20 of their final 27 in opposition to the Yankees.
On Monday, Tampa Bay gained with a former Yankee beginning and shutting, however you could have missed their time in New York. Wealthy Hill, who bought the win, pitched briefly in pinstripes in 2014. J.P. Feyereisen, who bought the save, got here to the Yankees from Cleveland in 2016 as a part of the Andrew Miller commerce. He by no means escaped the minors in New York.
These have been the opposite Rays’ pitchers on Monday: Michael Wacha, who flopped with the Mets final season; Pete Fairbanks, acquired from Texas in 2019 for a former Yankees prospect, Nick Solak; and Ryan Thompson, a side-arming former Rule 5 draft choose who wears No. 81.
The Rays use the same mixture day by day. Greater than another franchise, they’ve acknowledged and seized on the overriding characteristic of the trendy sport: the huge stock of high quality pitchers. They by no means overpay as a result of they know they don’t should. They construct low cost and efficient staffs by emphasizing pitchers’ finest stuff whereas by no means asking an excessive amount of.
“We attempt to determine the strengths that any arm has, we strive to ensure they perceive their strengths, and, by means of that, present them confidence to exit and maximize who they’re,” Normal Supervisor Erik Neander mentioned by cellphone on Monday.
“We actually don’t attempt to make it any extra sophisticated than that. This sport is admittedly pushed by — I imply, it’s potential — but it surely’s confidence. There’s lots of people right here who’ve the power. It’s ensuring they know themselves.”
Which may as effectively be the mantra for the group. The Rays know precisely who they’re. They’ve low income, low attendance and a ruthless method to roster administration.
After shedding the World Collection in six video games to the Los Angeles Dodgers final October, Tampa Bay shed two of its prime three starters, declining a $15 million choice on Charlie Morton and buying and selling Blake Snell to the San Diego Padres. These weren’t straightforward calls, Neander mentioned, however they have been smart.
“Over the past couple of years, Charlie and Blake have been in the course of loads of our success,” he mentioned. “However when these two guys didn’t seem in a sport, the remainder of this unit nonetheless gained 60 % of these video games, too. That gave us not less than some confidence that we nonetheless had an opportunity to be OK.”
And so they’re. Snell, who has struggled for the Padres, introduced again two prospects plus catcher Francisco Mejia and starter Luis Patino, who regarded good in a quick promotion and is now stretching out his workload within the minors.
As for Morton, the Rays took the cash they might have paid him and basically unfold it amongst 4 veterans: Hill, Wacha, Chris Archer and Collin McHugh — a various portfolio, simply the way in which Tampa Bay likes it.
“A lot of this sport is about appreciating what you don’t see coming,” Neander mentioned. “Oftentimes we win with expertise, however we actually win with depth, simply getting as many choices as attainable on the desk so you’ve gotten entry to all of the surprises that occur, the nice and the unhealthy.”
McHugh was dominant in Might as an opener and center man. Archer is recovering from a forearm harm. Wacha has been inconsistent, however did beat the Yankees in April. Hill has been excellent: 4-2 with a 3.32 E.R.A. after 5 shutout innings on Monday.
He left abruptly, after simply 56 pitches, however the Rays, after all, attempt to restrict opponents from getting too many seems to be at their pitchers. That technique backfired within the closing sport of the World Collection, after they lifted Snell from a shutout. It labored on Monday, with Hill’s blessing.
“I do know what we do right here and the way that buy-in is,” mentioned Hill, 41, the majors’ oldest pitcher. “Being on board is essential for a complete group win.”
Feyereisen joined the group final month from Milwaukee in a commerce for shortstop Willy Adames. The Rays had a lot depth behind Adames that they referred to as up one shortstop, Taylor Partitions, whereas one other — the consensus finest prospect within the minors, Wander Franco — stays in Class AAA.
“Erik Neander, he’s a genius, man,” Kiermaier mentioned. “He brings in nice individuals who have nice abilities as effectively, guys who match proper in with the ambiance that we’ve constructed right here through the years. And right here we’re with the perfect document within the A.L.”
The Dodgers, the Boston Pink Sox and the Houston Astros all employed Rays executives to run their baseball operations. The Rays’ manner is spreading, and that’s a priority; you wouldn’t need a league filled with imitators, as a result of extremely paid stars and sturdy beginning pitchers are important to baseball’s enchantment. The Rays’ mix-and-match offense additionally leads the majors in strikeouts at a time when sport wants extra balls in play, not fewer.
However for who they’re and the way they do it, the Rays are a marvel. For now they’re virtually unbeatable, heeding Kiermaier’s message from a latest clubhouse speech.
“Hey, don’t allow us to get scorching,” Kiermaier mentioned, repeating what he instructed the group. “As a result of once we do, the remainder of the league must be careful.”