The Tampa Bay Rays have the best record in the AL with a little over a month to go in the regular season. They have a considerable chance of repeating as AL Champions. But now, unlike last year, they are the favorite. Which has never ended well for anyone.
I look at the Giants as well, who are the overwhelming favorite in the NL. A lot has to go right for them to get to the World Series and win. First of all, it's an odd year. Secondly, they still need to end the season in first, and there are still teams like the Brewers, Braves and Dodgers who could spoil things. They can finish on top, and that'll be all well and good, but we all know how it went for the 2001 Mariners after the season ended.
And that's where the Rays are. The top is very nice, and can only guide you so far for so long. Once the season ends, they'll probably be tasked to favor all their matchups, when underdogs like the Yankees, A's and others are trying to knock them off the throne. And if it is indeed going to be a huge finish for the Rays, they'll need to justify their existence as a main competitor.
Right now, as it has all season, it'll be very difficult to explain how such a plain on-paper team can be as good as it is. The highest earner on the team is a .235-hitting Brandon Lowe, they're without bright acquisitions like Matt Wisler and J.P. Feyereisen, and their staff ace, Tyler Glasnow, won't be joining them til next year. Also, as of this week, they've got to work without Nelson Cruz, who's currently on the COVID IL. Also, I believe Chris Archer's probably gonna wind up back on the IL again very soon, judging by the abruptness of his departure this weekend.
But...you look at this lineup, and it's pretty clean. Arozarena, Margot, Meadows and Zunino have all been excellent hitters, Kiermaier and Wendle have been great contact/defensive players, Lowe is still the wunderkind everyman, and now the 20-year-old Wander Franco has come into his own at shortstop with a .266 average and 29 RBIs. This might be the most complete lineup formation in the leagues right now, as even the White Sox and Giants have a bit more flex than that. This is just a solid 9 man formation that works even without Cruz.
As for the pitching, using Shane McClanahan, Luis Patino and Drew Rasmussen as starters is paying off, as they're doing more heavy lifting than Yarbrough and Wacha. Andrew Kittredge is one of the few remaining core relievers from earlier in the season that's still active for the Rays, and is still one of the best relief pieces in the league, with only 9 earned runs in 57 innings. Louis Head has become a very successful rookie bullpen piece, and guys like J.T. Chargois and Collin McHugh have been very helpful.
So this is a very good team, it's just not showy. The Yankees, 4.5 games behind them, have the big names, the big pieces, the guys you know. The Rays can kick your ass without you knowing who's gonna be dealing most of the blows. That's what makes them dangerous going into the stretch.
Coming Tomorrow- I don't know how many more Phillies customs I can do in the regular season, or how many more times I'll get to make a custom of him on the Phillies, so here goes.