One of the biggest surprises so far in the 2019 big-league season has been the remarkable start of the Tampa Bay Rays. In a very tough American League East, they currently sit in first place at 12-4. After winning an impressive 90 games last season but just missing the playoffs, things are looking up for Tampa Bay so far, even though it’s very early in the 2019 campaign. Aside from swinging the bats well, the big area that’s standing out is their remarkable pitching staff and big-league-best 2.44 ERA.
Led by reigning AL Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell, the Rays have added guys like Charlie Morton to their rotation, a seasoned veteran who brings a ton of experience to a young pitching staff. Tyler Glasnow came over from the Pittsburgh Pirates in the Chris Archer trade last July, but didn’t pitch extremely well in the handful of starts he made at the tail end of 2018. This year though, he has been brilliant and emerged as an important piece of their rotation.
Although they have slowed down and started to concede some runs, the Rays consistency on the mound so far this season has still been impressive. There is no chance that anyone could have predicted the Rays would be atop the AL East ahead of the defending World Series-champion Boston Red Sox, or injury-stricken New York Yankees.
Snell is the heartbeat of this Tampa Bay rotation and has continued to dazzle this year after a remarkable 2018 campaign. He currently has a 2.16 ERA, striking out 36 hitters in just 25 innings while giving up just four free passes. With an electric fastball from the left side with a ton of movement, paired with a devastating off-speed curveball, Snell is extremely tough to square up against. Between his great command with all his pitches and the ability to blow a high 90’s heater by hitters, the 26-year old looks well on his way to another Cy Young-like season.
Glasnow looks like he is finally reaching his true potential in Tampa Bay after several lackluster seasons in Pittsburgh. It’s still very early in the year, but Glasnow looks practically unhittable so far; he currently leads the big leagues with a 0.53 ERA. The hard-throwing righty has given up just one earned run in 17 innings while striking out 21 hitters and walking just three. Control had been a big problem for him in Pittsburgh where, over three seasons, he walked 5.8 batters per nine innings. Glasnow looks like he has figured out his command which is a huge positive for him; his stuff is too good to be walking hitters. Between his 97 mph cut fastball that he can blow past hitters and hard 12-6 hook that generates a ton of swing and misses, Glasnow is a very good number two candidate in this Rays rotation. Hopefully, he can continue to get ahead of hitters so he puts them away with his curveball, which is one of the best in the majors.
Morton is the veteran of this staff. After spending the previous two seasons in Houston, where he was an All-Star for the first time in 2018, the Rays signed the 35-year old in December. Morton has picked up where he left off in Houston. He has a perfect 2-0 record so far, striking out 25 batters in just 20 innings while holding opponents to a .194 average. Despite his age, he still has a fastball that sits in the mid 90’s. His knuckle curve generates a ton of whiffs, along with a sinking fastball that generates a lot of groundballs. I think it’s very important to have a veteran on this staff like Morton because it’s typically a very young rotation. He has pitched in the big leagues for a very long time and been to the playoffs, which includes winning the 2017 World Series with the Astros. It will be important for him to be a mentor for the younger arms throughout the year.
Yonny Chirinos and Ryne Stanek have both seen some starts this year, as Kevin Cash has ventured with the two of them in a starting and bullpen role. They have both been decent enough to keep the Rays in games, with Stanek being the better of the two so far with a 2.16 ERA. The Rays have ventured with an “opener” again this season, using various relievers throughout a game which can be tough for opposing lineups. It will be interesting to see if this method can continue to work for Tampa Bay throughout the year.
The Bullpen Needs to be Better
Tampa Bay’s bullpen has given up 23 of their 39 earned runs this year, so they will need to sharpen up to keep up their winning ways. Since they’re swinging the bats extremely well right now, their bullpen hasn’t hurt them too much, but they aren’t going to be raking all year long. They will have cold streaks at the plate, that’s just how the game goes. As a staff though, they still have the best ERA in the majors. They have also struck out 10.5 hitters per nine innings, which is second in the bigs.
Through and through, this team is playing very good baseball. It would be remarkable if they could actually stay afloat at the top of the AL East as the season rolls on.
With an extremely talented rotation led by three power arms, it’s been a fantastic start for the Rays.