The Rays Are Good, But They’re Not This Good
They’re not going to go 162-0. While the Tampa Bay Rays, still undefeated after 12 games in 2023, are indisputably the hottest team in baseball, their recent string of success seems to be just as circumstantial as it is earned. It’s only a matter of time before the highly competitive AL East division tightens once more and the current division leaders have to contend for a playoff spot against more worthy competitors.
— ESPN (@espn) April 13, 2023
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To argue that the Rays’ historic season-starting winning streak, just one game away from the all-time record as of April 13, is due in part to good fortune is not to discredit the team in any way. Through 12 games, the likes of Wander Franco, Randy Arozarena and Shane McClanahan have been immensely impressive, confirming the team’s seemingly perennial status as a World Series contender despite a shoestring budget.
But Tampa Bay’s domination over the American League has come against — by far — the worst opposition any team in MLB has had to face thus far. The Rays rank dead last in strength of schedule for games played by a wide margin. If they were viewed individually, series sweeps against the Tigers, Nationals and Athletics meant little more than taking care of business for Tampa Bay.
Taking the first two in a series against the Red Sox, arguably the worst team in the AL East, is similarly typical. Nine of these 12 wins came in home games as well. Together, they form a formidable winning streak, but none of these would have been statement wins under normal circumstances.
Forming any sort of streak in baseball is difficult, and the Rays deserve credit for forming a team more than capable of handling less competitive organizations. But the excitement surrounding the team, which includes sky-rocketing power rankings assessments and extremely early championship buzz, does not necessarily feel earned. They have not yet defeated a team that made the playoffs last year.
The value in a baseball season is that its grueling 162-game schedule has a way of ferreting out pretenders. These tried and tested regular season champions aren’t always rewarded in the playoffs, but they usually deserve to be there. The Rays could very well belong in the postseason this year, but they haven’t proven that yet. No one has, and beating the Athletics in April can only mean so much to that end.
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