With the Tampa Bay Rays beating Texas 5-2 on Monday, here are eight fascinating facts to contribute to your water cooler conversations leading up to Wednesday night at Progressive Field.
1. Wednesday’s Tampa Bay starter Alex Cobb has been one of the most effective pitchers in baseball this season. He missed two months with a head injury, but he’s 5-1 with a 2.41 ERA in nine starts since his return on Aug. 15. That ERA ranks fifth-best in the American League during this span, which includes three straight dominant victories.
2. From July 3 through Sept. 23, All-Star third baseman Evan Longoria only had a .219/.306/.409 line in 314 plate appearances. One of the most consistently dominant players in baseball since his debut in 2008, he’s heating up to the tune of a 12-for-29 stretch with three doubles and three homers in the Rays’ last seven games.
3. One of Tampa Bay’s biggest weaknesses is its bullpen. The team’s relievers combined for a 3.67 ERA in the second half, second-worst for any playoff team (only Detroit was worse at 3.80; Cleveland had a 3.00 ERA.) In terms of ERA, their best reliever has been lefty Alex Torres (1.97 ERA in 58.0 IP), who began the season as a Triple-A starter.
4. The likely American League Rookie of the Year is 22-year-old Rays right fielder Wil Myers. Acquired from Kansas City in the controversial James Shields trade, Myers led the team with .293/.354/.478 line in 373 plate appearances since his June 18 debut. He had 38 homers, 136 RBI and a .910 OPS in 163 Triple-A games.
5. The Rays have ranked as one of the better defensive teams for several years, including in 2013. Longoria, shortstop Yunel Escobar and second baseman Ben Zobrist all had 10+ UZR at those positions. Those three and first baseman James Loney all were at least four runs above average defensively too, per Baseball-Reference.com.
6. After starting the season with a 5-10 record, the Rays were baseball’s best team for a near-three-and-a-half month stretch. They went 59-33 from April 19 through July 30. Of course, that means Tampa Bay then finished the season with a 14-23 fall followed by a 14-5 sprint to make the tiebreaker game against Texas.
7. The average absolute margin of victories in the six Rays-Indians games this season: 7.2. The Indians were 2-4 in those games, being out-scored 23-30. But none of the contests were particularly close: There were four shutouts, with the closest margin being just four. (h/t @WFNYKirk)
8. Tampa Bay and Texas are the only two teams to win 90-plus games in each of the last four seasons. During this span, Tampa Bay has allowed the fewest runs in the AL — just 3.83 runs per contest.
[Related: When a Win is more than a Win]