Much has been made of the “starless” Tampa Bay Rays having an incredible run through the abbreviated season and expanded playoffs. This narrative just won’t go away. The portrait of this World Series is of a rag-tag group of misfit toys facing off against a team of Earth’s mightiest heroes in the LA Dodgers.
Guess what? That narrative is dumb. The Rays are in the World Series because they have an incredible team full of incredible players.
How is it that the Rays have been able to squeeze so much juice out of former Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell and 2X All Star Charlie Morton?! How have they gotten 6’8″ Tyler Glasnow to produce this season after he posted a 250 ERA+ in 2019?! What a Cinderella story!
The Rays have long been amongst the best in the game at developing pitchers, and this season has, unsurprisingly, been no different. They have three thoroughbreds at the top of their rotation and a bullpen full of flamethrowers (Nick Anderson, Diego Castillo, etc.). These guys aren’t flashes in the pan; they’ve been good for multiple seasons. The Tampa Bay Rays have an excellent pitching staff on paper and in real life.
Never heard of Brandon Lowe? Well, you should get to know him. He was an All-Star last season, he’ll be an All-Star this season, he’s 26 years old, and has raked from the moment he stepped onto a Major League field (130 career OPS+).
Willy Adames is another name you should know. He’s a 24-year-old shortstop who had a 4.2-win season in 2019 and put up a 124 OPS+ this year. That’s called a stud. He plays for the Tampa Bay Rays.
Kevin Kiermaier is a fielding savant in centerfield. Arguably the best centerfielder the game has seen since Andruw Jones. If you don’t have a bit of a crush on him, regardless of your sexual orientation, you’re just lying to yourself. He also plays for the Rays.
Randy Arozarena probably just came across your radar. I won’t hold this one against you; he had 20 at bats last season in his first cup of coffee in the Majors. But Arozarena, again, is a beast. His .292/.377/.477 career Minor League slash line indicates his ridiculous 2020 (1.022 OPS) and postseason rampage (1.228 OPS) are no flukes. This kid mashes.
The Tampa Bay Rays are headed by one of baseball’s truly elite managers in Kevin Cash. Their pitching coach is Kyle Snyder, who has been with the organization since 2012 and learned under legendary pitching coach Jim Hickey, who helped create this culture of Rays pitching excellence. Chad Mottola is the hitting coach, and has been since 2016. That’s a pretty long tenure for a hitting coach in Major League baseball. He must be doing something right!
The Rays, as they say, are playing chess, while everyone else is playing checkers. No team is more willing to buck conventional wisdom, from defensive positioning, to bullpen management, to lineup shuffling. They really don’t give a shit, they’re just trying to win games. They’re good at winning games. Their superb coaching staff helps them accomplish that goal.
Keep Your Storybooks
The Tampa Bay Rays had the best record in the American League this season. Why? ‘Cause a bunch of guys on their team are really good at baseball. People say they’re not “stars” because of their lack of publicity (I guess). But that has more to do with economics than talent.
It’s true that the Rays don’t exactly have a big fanbase. Tropicana Field is widely considered to be a dumpster of a stadium. They routinely rank near the bottom in attendance figures. I get it. Casual fans might not recognize Ryan Yarbrough when he walks down the street.
The “Cinderella team” moniker is lazy, though. The root of that nickname is a lack of ability, not a lack of jersey sales. This team has ability to spare. Plenty of stars wear the Tampa Bay Rays uniform, you just might not have heard of them (yet). That will probably change if they are able to defeat the big, bad Dodgers, but let’s not call a team “starless” because we haven’t done our homework, ok?
This Rays season is no fairy tale.