The Tampa Bay Rays currently sit at 6-2 and atop the American League East standings. It is only eight games into the marathon that is the Major League Baseball season, but this moment is worth reflection.
Last season the Rays got off to a start that was less than ideal. Eight games into the season they were 1-7 on the way to a 4-13 start. It’s really hard to secure a playoff spot early in the season, but you sure can lose one. The Rays went 86-59 (96 win pace) the rest of the way, but fell short of the playoffs.
This year the Rays are off to a hot start while the other two main threats in the division have gotten off to lackluster starts with the New York Yankees (and their incredible bullpen) sitting at 3-4 and the Boston Red Sox (who needs a bullpen?) sitting at 2-7.
Eight games is just short of 5% of the 162 game season, and while that may not seem like it might not have much significance, banked wins matter.
Coming into the season FanGraphs projected the Rays to win 84.3 games and clumped with the Twins (85.4 wins) and Athletics (84.8 wins) in a fight for the second wild card. This led the Rays to having a 28.2% chance of making the playoffs.
Moving forward the projections haven’t changed, but the records locked in have already started to make a big difference in how the rest of the season plays out in the simulations.
The Rays are now a favorite to make the playoffs — albeit it a very small favorite at 52.7%. The Rays have increased their chances by 24.5% and, more importantly, the odds of winning the division has improved from 2.0% to 11.1% —where they would avoid having to play the one game play-in game known as the Wild Card Game.
The Rays win total still projects to be lower than the Red Sox (90.2 wins) and Yankees (96.6 wins) despite their slow starts and the Rays fast start, but the Rays are closing the gap.
Baseball Prospectus’ projections are even more optimistic. Their 83 win preseason win projection for the Rays was good enough for the second wild card. Now the Rays are projected to win 87.3 due to the fast start and their chances to make the playoffs sit at 63.1% with a 26.1% chance of winning the AL East. The Rays have passed the Red Sox who are projected to win 85.9 games and have an 18.8% chance of winning the AL East.
Now is not the time to take the foot off the gas pedal. The season is still very young and there’s a lot of work to be done for the Rays, but they have improved their chances of returning to the playoffs with their hot start, and that bodes well for the rest of the 2019 season.