With a dramatic 3-2 victory over the Seattle Mariners on Monday, April 30, the Tampa Bay Rays finished the season's first month with an impressive 15-8 record. Sufficient for sole possession of 1st place in the competitive AL East, their stellar mark also places as the 3rd best in all of baseball.
This strong start continues a pattern of early season success over the past 3 seasons. In fact, the Rays possess the top April record in MLB since 2010 with a combined 47-26 tally, good enough for an unmatched .643 winning percentage during that time.
Consistently coming out of the gates quickly, the Rays have obviously found a formula for success, since the team qualified for the post-season in 3 of the past 4 years.
Yet, the Rays have not discovered some long-sought baseball mystery. Every squad wants to win early and manager Joe Maddon would similarly prefer to avoid the mid-season blues, which tends to characterize his club equally.
So what is the key to Tampa Bay's early season success? And how is it so beneficial during the month of April?
When breaking down the games, it is clear that consistent starting pitching and timely hitting are the distinct factors that have aided the Rays' ability to thrive in the month of April.
Of course, such assets can bolster a team anytime. However, consistent pitching and timely hitting are never more significant than during games played in the early season, as well as those competed later during the playoffs.
It is well-known that pitchers carry the edge in the initial months of a baseball campaign. While hitters are working out the kinks in their swings, the arms of hurlers are then at their healthiest, as the wear and tear of a long season have yet to take a toll and velocity is typically in top form.
Furthermore, though a non-issue at indoor Tampa Bay home games, the colder weather of an early season generally favors pitchers. While lower temperatures often add to the rust in a batter, the absence of warmer air tends to hinder a ball from traveling as far as on a muggy summer night.
With homegrown talent on the mound like David Price and Jeremy Hellickson, the Rays have obviously built their team around young starting pitching. The club thus seemingly realizes there is no better time to make hay than the early part of the season. While the goal is to win every game, Tampa Bay benefits knowing that 12-10 slugfests are rare in April.
In further analyzing yesterday's 3-2 triumph over Seattle, one sees that timely hitting allowed the Rays to overcome a frustrating night at the plate. After falling behind, the team boldly evened the contest in the 11th on a hit from B.J. Upton and then proceeded to win in the12th on an unlikely single from Elliot Johnson.
By delivering the game winner, the light-hitting infielder picked up his 1st RBI of the season on the last day of April. Even with the hit, Johnson still woefully bats under .200. In fact, the utility man has never exceeded the Mendoza line of .200 in parts of 3 seasons in the majors.
Yet, it came as no surprise to Rays' fans that Maddon pressed the right buttons, just as he did last week by sending newly-acquired Brandon Allen to the plate to summon a game-winning homer.
This is because the numbers on Tampa Bay's late game heroics are indeed staggering. The team leads MLB with 41 walk-off wins since 2008. Furthermore, when focusing solely on the earlier and later parts of a season, the Rays currently have a thrilling 11 walk-off triumphs in their last 40 home games.
By combining consistent starting pitching with timely hitting, Tampa Bay has found a formula that bears great success during the month of April. The team is riding high in 1st place with a 15-8 mark and continues to outshine New York and Boston, both of which enjoy access to far greater resources.
Rough patches will undoubtedly emerge during the long season. At those points, the Rays' pitching will not appear as sharp and their clutch hitting may even disappear -- a return to normalcy is simply part of baseball. However, the boost from these early wins will continue throughout the pennant chase.
Meanwhile, Tampa Bay fans remain hopeful for an equally strong month of May. After all, it is still early.
Yahoo! Sports, Twitter.com.
More by Jeff Briscoe from Yahoo! Contributor Network:
Jeff Briscoe is a regular contributor for the Yahoo! Contributor Network and a follower of the Tampa Bay Rays . He co-hosts The Sports Train radio show on 1580am WCCF in Southwest Florida.