The Rays always seem to find a way to punch their playoff ticket. They have made the playoffs three out of the past four seasons, and while in none of those three years have they won the World Series, they’re always a tough team to face because of their stellar pitching staff.
This year is no different in that regard.
The Rays’ starting rotation leads the American League in an array of pitching categories. First off, in ERA (3.46), are second in LOB% (74.3%), second in HR/9 (0.88), and second in FIP (3.79). There isn’t one team that consistently ranks in the top five like the Rays. Sure, some teams shine in one specific area, but the Rays thrive in essentially all facets.
The accolades are far from over, however. The Rays starting rotation ranks second in K/9 (7.93/9), and have the third most wins in the A.L (59).
Much of this success simply falls on the back of David Price, who is the Cy Young frontrunner in the minds of many. He owns an American League leading 2.54 ERA, and also leads the A.L in wins with 17. The hard-throwing lefty has taken the leap from thrower to pitcher this year. That simple fix now has him carving up the American League with his zipping fastball and nasty off speed pitches.
Try hitting a trio of Price, Matt Moore, and James Shields in a five game series. It would be tough. Extremely tough. All of the spotlight shines on Price, but Moore has emerged since having an atrocious first half. And Shields has been a changed pitcher since trade rumors dampened, going 6-1 with a 2.22 ERA since July 26th.
The key ingredient for the Rays was having the 2011 version of James Shields. Rumblings about how they would need more than just Price to compete the East floated around the team for majority of the first half and more. The possibility of Shields’s excellent 2011 season being nothing but a fluke were tossed around as well, but the tables have turned and he is back to his reliable self. Realistically, skipper Joe Maddon now has two “aces” to juggle around.
But in retrospect, Matt Moore can be lights out like both of his rotation mates. He has proven that big games don’t faze him despite his young age. He yielded the mighty Rangers to just one run over 10 innings in his first two postseason games. Last time I checked, that’s clutch.
Plus, the Rays have a top notch bullpen to back their stellar starters. Fernando Rodney, the centerpiece in the bullpen, is garnering some much deserved MVP consideration with his 42 saves. In total, Tampa Bay’s bullpen leads the A.L with a 2.75 ERA. Given the amount of close games they’re involved in daily, a lock down bullpen is vital to their success. So far, that’s exactly how things are shaping up. Will they keep it up? Time will only answer that question.
The only thing holding this Tampa Bay team down, is there inconsistent offense. They have improved since their all-star slugger Evan Longoria returned in August, but they still rank 12th in the American league with a .239 batting average as a whole. But the point is, they come up with timely hits. If their pitching keeps them in the game, there’s a good chance of them winning. It’s that simple.
The Rays pitching is vastly better than the Yankees or Orioles staffs, and while Tampa Bay isn’t an offensive juggernaut like New York and Baltimore, they are the most dangerous team in the American league.