The Rays Tank: Writers Realize That You Can't Count the Rays Out

USA TODAY Sports

Early-season baseball is fun; one winning streak can turn a team that everyone gave up on into a favorite.

Rays fans can associate with the feeling. The more games that passed, the more it seemed that the pessimists were right and that the Rays were finally going to have that disastrous season cynics have been waiting for. Eight wins in their last ten games, though, has changed a lot. In the eyes of David Shoenfeld, the Rays are back to being a favorite in the AL East.

Moore has held batters to a .175 average but he has also walked 26 in 55 innings, so there's room for improvement. In some ways, that's what made Sunday's outing impressive: He struck out only three but walked one, avoiding a big inning in the process. Another area for improvement is that while Moore's fastball/curveball/changeup arsenal has destroyed right-handers -- they're hitting .064 off the curveball with 20 strikeouts in 47 plate appearances -- he hasn't yet learned to dominate lefties, who have hit a respectable .236/.335/.361 off him the past two seasons he sticks mostly to the fastball against them.

Of course, a major reason he's 8-0 is excellent run support, but this isn't a typical Tampa Bay offense that struggles to put up runs. After outscoring only the Royals, Indians and Mariners last season, the Rays have scored just 12 runs fewer than the best-in-the-AL Tigers. The Rays' OPS has increased from .711 to .760 and not just because Dodgers castoff James Loney is off to a .356 start. Matt Joyce has eight home runs and Luke Scott has driven in 12 runs in 17 games since coming off the DL; both homered in Sunday's win. Kelly Johnson is hitting .274 with seven home runs.

....

But here's why I'll stick with my preseason choice of the Rays to win the AL East: pitching, pitching, pitching. At least starting pitching. (The bullpen is the team's major issue right now.) At Triple-A Durham, the rotation included Alex Torres (2.39 ERA, 49 SO, 14 BB in 37.2 IP), Jake Odorizzi (3.83 ERA, 47 SO, 15 BB in 44.2 IP), Chris Archer (4.38 ERA, 40 SO, 19 BB in 39 IP) and Alex Colome (2.86 ERA, 59 SO, 20 BB in 50 IP). The Angels would kill to have those four in their rotation right now.

On Sunday, Matt Moore was great again on his way to his 8th win as the Rays beat the Orioles 3-1 to finish off a sweep. His 8-0 start is something special–he became the first lefty 23 years old or younger to begin the season 8-0 since some guy named Babe Ruth. Ruth finished that season 24-13 and Moore will not do that. But unlike Ruth, Moore is still getting better, as Shoenfeld talked about.

Moore will face regression, but his continued improvement gives him a chance to be an ace for years to come. And with Moore leading an impressive pitching staff even with David Price out, this Rays pitching staff is as dangerous as ever. Like Moore's luck regression being canceled out by his development as a pitcher, the offense will likely lose a step but the improvement of the pitching staff should cancel out the difference. Anything can happen and the Rays' critics may be right. But this team still has as much potential as ever and it's certainly not time to give up yet.

Here are your links for today:

-Ben Lindbergh talked to catching coordinators about pitch framing.

-Jeff Beliveau discussed being in the big leagues for a day. He hoped he would "stick a little longer." Sorry.

-Scott Kazmir goes for the Indians at 12:05 today.

-With the Rays' overabundance of starting pitching and bullpen struggles, ever thought of the Rays maybe using multiple starters per game to minimize the use of their bullpen? Russell Carleton wrote about the feasibility of that idea.

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