You read that headline right, the Tampa Bay Rays -- who just traded their starting shortstop a few months after trading one of their aces -- are currently the best team in the American League. After a 14-8, 11-inning win over the Toronto Blue Jays on Monday, the Rays are 30-19 and occupy first place in the American League East. We can quibble over the front office's decisions throughout the past few years, but there's no doubting this group knows how to win games.
The Rays are one game behind the San Diego Padres for the best record in baseball, and sit atop the American League. They've now won 11 games in a row despite a team batting average of .235 and an average OPS of .723. Somehow that's translated into 235 runs, which is fourth in all of baseball.
This is really all about pitching. The Rays rank third in the American League in ERA (3.54), second in WHIP (1.14), fourth in strikeouts (442) and fourth in opponents batting average (.224). Led by Tyler Glasnow -- who is 4-2 with a 2.90 ERA and 87 strikeouts in 62 innings -- the Rays' staff has made fans forget about the Blake Snell trade from the offseason.
Offensively, Randy Arozarena, Austin Meadows, Brandon Lowe, Joey Wendle and Mike Zunino have combined to hit 42 home runs. Wendle is having a breakout campaign hitting .310 with six bombs, 24 RBIs and a .917 OPS. The 26-year-old Arozarena is proving his incredible 2020 postseason wasn't a fluke, as he's hitting .277, with seven home runs, 25 RBIs, a .816 OPS and a 1.4 fWAR early in the season.
Things are going so well in Tampa, the Rays felt comfortable parting with starting shortstop Willy Adames and shipped him to the Milwaukee Brewers last week. To replace him, they brought up 24-year-old Taylor Walls who was raking at Triple-A. In three games in the big leagues, Walls has hit .250 and looked comfortable in the field.
If all that wasn't enough, the Rays still have baseball's best prospect sitting in the minors. Wander Franco is at Triple-A Durham just waiting for a call-up. The 20-year-old shortstop should arrive sometime this season, though it may be a few months before we see him. In fact, Tampa has the consensus top farm system in baseball, so help is on the way from a number of guys sooner or later.
All this is to say that after a shocking run to the World Series in 2020, most thought the Rays had maxed things out. They traded Snell over the winter, have a payroll of only $63.1 million and appeared to be ready to sink back to the bottom of the standings. Instead, the penny-pinching-est franchise in baseball might be better this year.
Watch out for the Rays. They're on fire and will get even better as the season goes along.