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Rays surge into off day scorching hot

Even though it was, ya know, super cold in Chicago

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at Chicago White Sox David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

A hot or cold start during the beginning of the marathon that is the Major League Baseball regular season doesn’t necessarily indicate a team’s talent or playoff potential.

Last year, the Yankees, Astros, and Red Sox all tore up the first month of play. New York finished April 18-10, Houston 20-10, and Boston 21-7. Each team went on to win 100 games and were awarded a ticket to the postseason, with, of course, Boston going on to win the championship.

Through 13 games in 2019, the Rays have set a similar tone for a memorable season.

Starting the season off against Houston and Colorado — 2018 playoff teams — looked like a tall order and the Rays put them in their place. They then went on the road and took five of six from two lower-tier opponents en route to a current 10-3 record, the second best run differential in baseball (+32), and a 6.5-game division lead over the reigning champs — the Boston Red Sox.

A hot start spearheaded by elite pitching, the Rays have essentially thrown like the reigning Cy Young winner through their first 13 games.

Blake Snell 2018: 1.89 ERA, 2.95 FIP, 3.16 xFIP

Rays 2019: 1.98 ERA (1st), 2.66 FIP (1st), 3.26 xFIP (1st)

It’s a long season. There’s lots of baseball to be played. But the Rays have the early advantage.

Starting at a scorching pace

The benefit of this blistering win pace in the first two weeks is that the margin for error widens for the rest of the season. No matter what happens after April, you still get credit for all the wins they banked in the early weeks.

Since the Rays won 10 of their first 13 games, the workload for the rest of the season looks less daunting. To reach 90 wins, they’ll only need to go a very manageable 80-69 over their final 149.

Banked wins are huge, and if we learned anything last year, it’s that the first weeks actually do matter. If the Rays had played .500 baseball the first month of the season last year, they’d have made the playoffs.

It’s far too early to know what will happen the rest of the way — that’s why they play the games! — however, the Rays have positioned themselves so well that they are almost certain to be at least relevant all year.

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at Chicago White Sox
Background: Apr 8, 2019; Chicago, IL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays first baseman Ji-Man Choi, left, Tampa Bay Rays center fielder Kevin Kiermaier, center, and Tampa Bay Rays shortstop Willy Adames (1) celebrate after beating the Chicago White Sox 5-1 at Guaranteed Rate Field. Mandatory Credit: Matt Marton
Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

I mean, just playing .500 ball the rest of the way would get them to 85 wins, and that would certainly keep us entertained for the next six months. The Rays can now comfortably aim higher.

As we’ve witnessed thus far, this team is good enough to win the division. Especially one that looks to have more holes in the hull than previously or currently projected.

Capitalizing on struggling rivals

The Rays — the only team in the American League East with a record of .500 or better — have a real opportunity to create some separation in the coming weeks, especially with the Red Sox.

The Red Sox are by no means out of the playoff push, they have way too much talent to simply write off, but this season’s cold start feels a little real. With six games against Boston on the schedule before the end of the month, the Rays can lick their chops at the opportunity of burying the reigning champs early.

Meanwhile, the Yankees are bleeding talent through injuries. They now have eight players on the 10-day Injured List, including their ace (Luis Severino), slugger (Giancarlo Stanton), and front-line shortstop (Didi Gregorius). Miguel Andujar, Troy Tulowitzki, Aaron Hicks, and Jordan Montgomery are all projected to miss significant time.

The Rays look to continue their hot start with a three-game series in Toronto on Friday. It’ll be Ryne Stanek and a bulk guy (most likely Ryan Yarbrough) against Blue Jays prospect Trent Thorton. Game time is 7:07 EST.