The Tampa Bay Rays are patiently waiting for the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox to determine which team earns the right to face them in the best-of-five American League Division Series.
The Bombers and the Sox will battle it out on Tuesday night because they were the top two Wild Card teams, but the Rays sealed their postseason ticket a while ago as the AL East winners.
Both Boston and New York finished eight games behind the 100-62 Rays, the best team in the junior circuit.
Tampa Bay has been blossoming for years now, and appeared in last season’s World Series, taking the eventual champions, the Los Angeles Dodgers, to six games with their trademark brand of baseball.
The Tampa Bay Rays win the AL East. Beating teams with double and triple their payroll, playing with rookies and hardly ever any fans in the stands supporting them. Unbelievable. No matter who your favorite team is, you have to respect it #RaysUp
— Casey LePak (@caseylepak) September 26, 2021
The Rays have a small payroll, but have invested resources in scouting, player development, coaching, and analytics, an approach that has paid big dividends.
A Unique Approach With Great Results
Lots of teams will spend more money than the Rays, but no one goes to games and playoff series more prepared than them.
They have a deep pool of players who have embraced the organizational philosophy.
Tampa Bay is a well-oiled machine in which the sum of the parts is an amazing product.
They don’t leave anything to chance: the Rays always have the right pitching matchup for each situation, and they let the numbers dictate trends to follow or avoid.
For example, their starting pitchers usually don’t go deep in games because they have understood teams are notoriously more productive at the plate when facing a pitcher for the third time through the lineup.
That’s why they pulled Blake Snell from last season’s World Series game after just 73 pitches, a decision that backfired more because of the pitcher chosen at the time (the struggling Nick Anderson) than because of the concept itself.
It’s not an accident that the Rays finished the 2021 season with a +206 run differential, the third-best in MLB and the best in the AL.
Tampa survived key departures over the winter, such as Snell and Charlie Morton, who signed a free agent contract with the Atlanta Braves.
They also had to endure a season-ending injury to their best pitcher, Tyler Glasnow.
A Phenomenal Farm System To Feed The Big League Club
However, they are so organizationally sound that they have understood the importance of a good, deep farm system too.
Because of that, they were able to call up young pitchers who ended up contributing to the big league team and are currently part of their plans for the postseason.
Shane McClanahan (3.43 ERA in 123.1 innings) made 25 starts this season as a rookie, and was brilliant.
Shane Baz (2.03 ERA in a couple of late-season starts) made his debut, and was excellent, too.
The bullpen has been outstanding and has the third-lowest ERA in MLB, with 3.24, thanks to guys like Andrew Kittredge, Pete Fairbanks, JT Chargois, Collin McHugh, Matt Wisler, Josh Fleming, Louis Head, and more.
And, of course, they called up the best prospect in baseball, Wander Franco, who has been extremely impressive with a .288/.347/.463 line.
Wander Franco ties Frank Robinson for longest on-base streak among players age 20 years or younger pic.twitter.com/1cfgTj8Krw
— Tampa Bay Rays (@RaysBaseball) September 30, 2021
The Yankees and Red Sox are good.
However, the winner of Tuesday’s Wild Card game will have a hard time eliminating the tough Rays.
It’s not impossible, but Tampa is clearly a better ball club than both New York and Boston.