American League East fans outside of Florida had to feel good about life on June 10, 2014 when the Tampa Bay Rays were fifteen games out of first place and were eighteen games under .500. After all, the Rays have been the perennial thorn in everyone's side winning over 90 games five of the previous six seasons on a shoestring budget and with a manager who had too much fun, showed too much cool and was everyone's resident genius. The Rays' plight was a comfort.
Even as late as June 24, 2014, the Rays were seventeen games under .500 and thirteen games back. People started speculating on where David Price and Ben Zobrist would end up by the trading deadline. The Rays were dead. They were out of it. They could not score. They had a lousy bullpen. Injuries had wrecked its rotation.
But since June 24, the Rays took three of four from the Orioles, swept the Yankees three straight, took three of four from the Tigers, had a little problem with Kansas City, took two of three from the Blue Jays, swept three from the Twins and have beaten the Cardinals' two best pitchers on successive nights. They were 17-5 from that point to now and are 13-4 in July.
Now the team is just four games under .500 and just seven games out of first place. Suddenly, every fan of every other AL East team is nervous and sweating those danged Rays who would not stay dead.
Now there seems to be little question for the need to trade David Price or Ben Zobrist. The bullpen that was terrible has flipped with Jake McGee as the closer and Brad Boxberger as the set up guys. McGee has a WHIP of 0.864 and Boxberger's is even better at 0.857. McGee has a strikeout to walk ratio of 5.50.
And they pretty much don't have to worry about much more than those two because Price has been amazing, Alex Cobb has come back with a vengeance, Chris Archer is nasty and even Jake Odorizzi has really turned his season around.
Did you know that Odorizzi is striking out more than ten batters per nine innings? I didn't until I started looking at those statistics. This is suddenly a really challenging rotation.
So far, we have just discussed the pitching. The offense has averaged 4.9 runs scored per game for those last 22 games after averaging 3.96 runs per game for the season. Kevin Kiermaier has provided a huge lift to the offense (where do they get these guys!?) and Zobrist and company have hit much better as the season has hit the present time.
The Rays have a +27 run differential in July as the pitching has hit its stride and the offense has gained more traction. Not too much is going wrong for the Rays right now.
If the Rays can survive a coming stretch where they play the Red Sox, Brewers, Angels and A's, they will be in good shape and then have seven games against the Cubs and Rangers. They do not have an easy road in their last sixty games. But they are set up to make some noise.
Yeah, the Rays were dead and fans all over the American League East were feeling good and making toasts. The Rays did not stay dead. They never do. And those toasts have turned to drinking binges of worry. They may take some comfort in the odds-makers giving the Rays a slim choice, but they know better. We all know better.