With each passing season it has become increasingly clear that we should never count out the Tampa Bay Rays. However, their remarkable run back to relevancy in 2014 has been more than just impressive, it's actually been historic.
With Friday's 5-0 win over the New York Yankees, the Rays became the fourth team in MLB history to reach .500 after being as many as 18 games under .500 in the same season.
The Rays were 24-42 and 15 games behind the Toronto Blue Jays in the AL East on June 10. Since, they are 37-19, which puts them 9 1/2 behind the Baltimore Orioles, who currently lead the East. The Rays are now only two games behind Toronto (24-32 over that time frame) for third place in the East, and are 5 1/2 out of the second wild-card position.
Obviously, they still have a lot of ground to cover in their final 40 games to get where many envisioned them in October, but they're definitely in the mix after looking like obvious sellers two months ago. An eight-game winning streak immediately following the All-Star break helped them make up ground in a hurry and had general manager Andrew Friedman reconsidering their status right up until the July 31 deadline. Ultimately, he decided to move David Price to Detroit in a three-team trade, which still made sense in the long term. And surprisingly, it hasn't hurt them in the short term, either.
As ESPN Stats and Info notes, the Rays pitching was and remains steady even with Price gone. It has actually been more about their improvements offensively since June 10 that have engineered the turnaround.
The Rays have been one of the most disciplined teams at the plate since June 10. Prior to that date the Rays ranked 17th with a .317 OBP as a team. From June 11 on the Rays have a .346 OBP as a team, the best mark in baseball over that time span.
Ben Zobrist has tallied 27 walks from June 11 on, second in MLB behind only Paul Goldschmidt's 36 walks.
And finally, the Rays have chased only 25 percent of pitches outside of the strike zone from June 11 on, again the best mark in baseball over that time span.
A good approach at the plate goes a long way, and the Rays improved approach has seemingly made them whole again. Now the challenge will be maintaining that discipline and not allowing a repeat of the 2004 season.
During that season, the Rays became the second team to overcome being 18 games under to reach .500, meaning they account for fifty percent of the occurrences in MLB history. The others are the 1899 Louisville Colonels and 2006 Florida Marlins.
On May 19 of 2004, the Rays were 10-28, but rebounded to go 25-7 and reach .500 on June 25. That's a remarkably quick turnaround, but it was short-lived as they finished the season going 35-56.
This Rays team is far better equipped from a talent standpoint to sustain the success. And it doesn't hurt to have a manager like Joe Maddon, who will continue pushing and motivating them to not be satisfied.
Our sub goal was to first get back to terra firma, then let’s move on. Our guys are ready to go. We believe we can pull this thing off.
— Joe Maddon (@RaysJoeMaddon) August 16, 2014
Still, the small margin for error ensures the pressure will remain high for the final six-plus weeks.
It will be most interesting to see how they handle that pressure, and perhaps even more so to see how much pressure they can put on those teams still ahead of them.
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