The Tampa Bay Rays live and die with their starting pitching.
In all of their years as a successful team in the American League East, the one constant for the Rays has been an excellent pitching staff that routinely keeps them in contention. Rays pitchers are great on the field, and they are great on the trade market, where starters like Matt Garza and Chris Archer have brought back the prospects that keep the team going.
Today, we’ll look back on the the top Rays starts of the decade as determined by Game Score.
To calculate a pitcher’s Game Score, you start with 50 points. Add 1 point for each out recorded, (or 3 points per inning). Add 2 points for each inning completed after the 4th. Add 1 point for each strikeout. Subtract 2 points for each hit allowed. Subtract 4 points for each earned run allowed. Subtract 2 points for each unearned run allowed. Subtract 1 point for each walk.
14. James Shields - 87
June 19th, 2011 vs the Florida Marlins
13. Drew Smyly - 87
August 22nd, 2014 vs the Toronto Blue Jays
The Tampa Bay Rays made one of the most significant trades in franchise history on July 31st, 2014 when they traded away David Price, one of the greatest pitchers in franchise history, to the Detroit Tigers in a three team deal. Willy Adames came back in that trade, which was largely seen as trading current wins for future wins.
However, the Rays did get a major league ready pitcher in the trade. No one knew just what to expect from Drew Smyly. He had excelled earlier in his career as a reliever, but the Tigers had brought him back to their rotation to start the season and Smyly performed solidly. People certainly didn’t expect Smyly to perform better than Price down the stretch, but that’s exactly what Smyly did.
Heading into this outing against the Blue Jays, Smyly was making just his 4th appearance in a Rays uniform and he was nothing short of incredible as he swiftly dispatched each Blue Jays hitter that came up to the plate. After a two out single in the 3rd, Smyly set down the next 19 batters to close out the game. All in all, Smyly delivered a complete game shutout, yielding just two hits, walked none, and struck out four.
12. David Price - 87
April 25th, 2010 vs the Toronto Blue Jays
David Price broke camp with the Rays for the first time in 2010, and seemed poised to fulfilling the promise of his top prospect projections.
Making his 4th start of the year, Price carved through the Blue Jays lineup. He would eventually deliver a complete game shutout, and racked up 9 strikeouts during the performance, walking just one, and only allowed four hits.
11. Matt Andriese - 88
May 14th, 2016 vs the Oakland Athletics
The Rays needed a pitcher. With an early season schedule that allowed them basically employ a 4-man rotation in lieu of a traditional 5-man one, the Rays needed a fresh arm to face the Angels in early May. Matt Andriese was in that “swing man” role and got the call.
When your swing man gets called up, you hope he’ll be adequate. You don’t expect a two-hit, complete game shutout.
10. Jeff Niemann - 88
June 8th, 2010 vs the Toronto Blue Jays
When you look at the list of what-if’s in Rays history, contemplating Jeff Niemann’s career minus the frequent injuries is probably high on that list. Whenever healthy, Niemann could easily dismantle a lineup. He just wasn’t healthy often enough.
In 2010, he had started the season on a solid pace at the backend of the Rays dominant rotation. In early June, he just showed how good the Rays pitching was when he completely dissected the Blue Jays. During his complete game shutout, Niemann worked a no-hitter though the first five frames before surrendering a hit in the 6th. He allowed just one more hit on the night, hit a batter, didn’t walk anyone, and struck out six.
9. Chris Archer - 89
July 27th, 2013 vs the New York Yankees
Chris Archer had finally arrived for the Rays in 2013. After spending some time with Tampa Bay in 2012, Archer was a mainstay for the Rays as they marched towards another postseason berth.
At just 24 years of age, Archer was dominating, having already tossed a complete game shutout earlier in the year. Now he was facing the Yankees in the Bronx and a tough opponent on the mound in Ivan Nova, Archer would have to be on his game.
Nova put up 0’s for awhile, but Archer matched him as he dispatched the Yankees lineup with ease. Finally, in the 9th inning, the Rays held a 1-0 lead and Archer was nearing another complete game shutout
8. Drew Smyly - 89
April 19th, 2016 vs the Boston Red Sox
7. Chris Archer - 90
May 27th, 2015 vs the Seattle Mariners
6. James Shields - 91
September 9th, 2012 vs the Texas Rangers
In the twilight of what turned out to be his final season as a member of the Tampa Bay Rays, James Shields gave Rays fans plenty to remember him by as he delivered some of the best outings of his career.
One September day in particular, during a game in which BJ Upton homered three times and Jose Molina also homered — not sure which was more of a feat to be honest — Shields dominated the Texas Rangers.
Shields never really encountered danger during the entire performance and at one point, he had retired 19 in a row. When all was said and done, he had delivered his franchise leading 8th career complete game shutout. allowing just two hits, walking none, and collecting eight strikeouts.
5. Matt Garza - 92
July 26th, 2010 vs the Detroit Tigers
Garza is among the top pitchers in franchise history in terms of pure stuff and being able to put a hitter away with a full arsenal of plus pitches. During the summer of 2010, he was able to fully weaponize each of his pitches as he dueled against Max Scherzer of the Detroit Tigers.
Both pitchers dismantled the lineups of each teams, not allowing the first hit until late in the game. Fortunately, it was the Rays who finally broke throughwhen Matt Joyce blasted a grand slam.
Matt Garza meanwhile, kept the Tigers hitless and faced the minimum after erasing a one out second inning walk with a double play. He would go on to toss the first (and so far only) no-hitter in Tampa Bay Rays history, setting down the final 22 batters he faced in order and notching six strikeouts while he walked just one during his march toward the record books.
4. James Shields - 92
July 31st, 2012 vs the Oakland Athletics
James Sheilds’ circle change may be one of the most beautiful pitches in Tampa Bay Rays history and it was on full display during his mastery of the Oakland Athletics, in late July of 2012. The trade deadline had just passed and James Shields remained with the Rays, despite a flurry of trade rumors and the Rays were rewarded for keeping Big Game James as he carved through the Athletics.
Seven of his final 12 outs came via strikeouts, most of which came on his devastating change-up. Overall, Shields gave up just three hits on the night, while he racked up 11 strikeouts and didn’t walk a batter during his complete game shutout.
3. James Shields - 93
May 22nd, 2011 vs the Florida Marlins
2011, the year of Shields.
The season wasn’t even two months old, and yet, James Shields had started nine games and already had two complete games under his belt. Facing the Marlins in an afternoon contest, he was gunning for his third complete game of the season.
At one point during the contest, Shields had retired 17 in a row and once again Shields finished the game at an incredible pace as nine of the final 11 outs came via a strikeout. Shields complete his three hit shutout with a total of 13 strikeouts and yielded just one walk.
James Shields would go on to have nine complete games in 2011, with four of them being shutouts.
I miss James Shields.
2. James Shields - 94
October 2nd, 2012 vs the Baltimore Orioles
1. Chris Archer - 95
August 20th, 2015 vs the Houston Astros
During the best season of Chris Archer’s career, he would turn in the best start in Tampa Bay Rays history with a Game Score of 95.
Archer was incredibly dominant against the Houston lineup with his velocity and wipeout slider. Archer would only allow one hit during the contest and it was a seeing-eye groundball that found a hole through the shift on the right side of the infield.
The only other Astros to reach base was Jose Altuve, who walked on four pitches to lead off the 1st inning; after that, Archer retired the next 11 hitters he faced until Colby Rasmus got the only Astros hit of the day in the fifth inning. The next 15 hitters who faced Archer would all head back to the dugout as Archer completed his complete game shutout, and collected a total of 11 strikeouts.