With their – believe it – Major League-best record of 51-32, the Tampa Bay Rays are the talk of baseball, attempting a worst-to-first that would make the Celtics’ own bottom-to-top pale in comparison.
Look at it this way: If the Rays manage to go just 20-58 from here on out, that will still be good enough for the best record in franchise history.
To put that in some sort of historical perspective, Boston would need to go 55-23 the rest of the way to top its franchise-best 105-win season in 1912. Apple. Orange.
In 2002, Tampa won just 55 games all season.
The Rays need just 15 more wins to match last year’s win total.
Today, the Rays are on pace for a 99-win season.
The comparison to the 1991 Atlanta Braves is valid. In 1990, the Braves finished with a 65-97 mark, dead-last in the then-geographically-challenged NL West. The next season, their 94-68 mark gave them the division, en route to the greatest World Series ever played against the Minnesota Twins. Atlanta only went on to win the division 14 straight seasons.
The New York Mets, of course, enjoyed a 27-game turnaround from 1968 to 1969, when the team captured its first World Series crown.
According to coolstandings.com, Tampa has a 50.7 percent shot at winning the division, a hefty 72.2 percent chance at taking the wild card, which Boston currently leads by three games over the Twins.
Only the White Sox own a better record against teams in their own division, their 23-11 mark against the AL Central just slightly better than the Rays’ 23-15 record against AL East opponents. The Red Sox are just a game over .500 (16-15) vs. the East. In 2007, Tampa Bay was just 29-53 vs. AL East opponents, while the Red Sox were 42-30.
Perhaps most impressive in this turnaround, the Rays are an AL-best 42-26 against clubs .500 or better. In 2007, they were 38-60 against those teams.
The Rays are 15-10 in games decided by one run this season. Boston is 11-13, a somewhat certain signal that it could use a healthy David Ortiz back in what has recently been a lackluster lineup.
If Tampa somehow finds its way into the World Series, it will mark the final of the four expansion franchises of the 90’s to do so, and second in two seasons, following in the footsteps of the Colorado Rockies. Seattle (1977) and Montreal/Washington (1969) are still waiting.
Tampa’s 3.65 ERA is best in the AL East, its starters ERA (3.88) second only to Boston (3.82) in the division. Once again, we give credit to The Sporting News’ David Pinto, who in March warned that Tampa’s rotation, based on PECOTA forecast, might be the class of the AL East. Many laughed at the time, but nobody is now. Tampa is one of only two AL teams (Angels) to have three pitchers listed among the top-20 WHIPs (Scott Kazmir, James Shields, and Matt Garza). Boston has one (Josh Beckett).
Really, no matter what happens the next 3-4 months, it’s already the greatest season in Rays history. Not that it would take much, of course.
But it’s how much, and how drastic the change is, that is the most compelling aspect of this big-time turnaround.