One of the top stories in Major League Baseball early in the 2023 season is the absolute tear the Tampa Bay Rays have been out of the gates. The beasts from the American League East effortlessly swept the Tigers out of Tropicana Field to open the schedule, and since then, nobody has really been able to slow them down.
Coming into Tuesday, the Rays hold a 20-3 record thanks to a 13-game winning streak that was broken up by two-straight losses at the Toronto Blue Jays, followed by their third loss in the first game of the following series at the Cincinnati Reds. But they’re back on the winning side, having taken six in a row since.
If Tampa Bay’s record looks suspiciously familiar to you as a Detroit fan, you are probably aware that the Bless You Boys squad of 1984 started 35-5 that season and went on to earn the most recent World Series title for the franchise. In fact, at this point in that historic campaign, the Tigers had a worse mark (19-4) than the Rays but then won 16 of the next 17 to set the record.
While the Motor City Kitties have not exactly been setting the world on fire on their end, this particular narrative has been of significant interest to Tigers fans. We recently convened our fourth BYB roundtable discussion of the season and I asked our staff what their individual takes are on the Rays’ start and how it could jeopardize one of our franchises’ fondest memories. Take a look below at what each of us had to offer.
Trevor Hooth: The Tigers brought in their draft guy! Oh, the Rays. Simple take, good baseball is fun.
Frisbee Pilot: I’d never put anything past the Rays these days, ever. Unlike the juggernaut ‘84 Tigers, the Rays won’t clobber too many home runs or throw a fireballing complete game at you. They do the little things right, they find magic in discarded arms, they get hits when they count. That shows you that the organization has a plan, then finds the right people to execute that plan — and that’s sustainable.
Now, if they could only draw crowds...
Mr. Sunshine: Baseball is a funny game.
Brandon Day: The Rays just continue to evaluate and develop players better than everyone else. It’s not even that they necessarily out-draft everyone so badly, but trading for Randy Arozarena right before he broke out is a classic Rays move. Taking on Yandy Diaz, who has always had great strikeout-to-walk numbers and hit the ball hard, but never lifted it, and teaching him to pull more balls in the air. Classic Rays.
They kind of did the same with Isaac Paredes after the Tigers spent all of 2021 working on that with him without much success, although Paredes is off to a mediocre start this season.
And then they always put together a strong pitching staff. They’re just better at refining and simplifying pitchers down to their best stuff and teaching them to command those pitches, whether it’s someone with a long track record like Zach Eflin, or picking up a 27-year-old semi-cast off in Jeffrey Springs and turning him into an ace. Springs is out for the year now, but no doubt they’ll find a way to turn that to their advantage too.
This Rays team is almost certainly not an all-timer, but they’re so consistently good organizationally, that once in a while they’re going to go on runs like this.
Sunshine: Yeah, what he said. They’re basically got finding diamonds in the rough down to a science at this point.
Ashley MacLennan: Well I’m also a Rays fan so I gotta say I’m really happy at least one of my teams is doing so well.
Brandon: How happy are people that we nicked their senior director of amateur scouting? And when do our trophies arrive? I’ll take my answer off the air.
Zane Harding: The Rays are great for baseball, and the fact that they’re willing to spend a little more these days is helping their cause. I’m a strong proponent of forward-thinking front offices, as somebody who knows a lot about backward-thinking front offices. Happy to have their draft guy, although when I think of the Rays I think of international gems like Franco and Adames (oops), and of reclamation arms like Springs (RIP) / Morton (so good) / Eflin (maybe).
To play devil’s advocate, though, it sucks that a team that plays at Tropicana Field in St Pete, Florida is going on this legendary run because I’d rather it go to a more-starved and more-crazed fanbase. Maybe one in a baseball city that has gone through decades of occasionally coming so close, yet so far from glory.
Cameron Kaiser: The Rays are awesome and I wish the Tigers were more like them in terms of baseball playing prowess and not frugal spending.
Zane: I also hope they don’t go 35-5. Let us have that.
Adam Dubbin: I love the ‘72 Dolphins energy!
Jay Markle: I mean, this is just the peak actualization of “I love this trade for the Rays. Who’d they give up? And who’d they get?”
Smart team does smart things and profits.
David Rosenberg: When I saw the Rays dismantle the Tigers at Tropicana Field in the second game of the season, I didn’t quite realize just how good that Tampa Bay team would turn out to be. They’re fun, they’re young, they’re… everything we wish the Tigers were. The salt in the wound: Austin Meadows has done very little in Detroit and Isaac Paredes has hit 23 home runs.
But who cares about that? The Rays should be praised for making magic happen with the third-lowest payroll in baseball. Maybe there will even be an Aaron Sorkin movie written about it one day? The start the Rays are on is good for baseball, even if it does make us Tigers fans squirm as a seemingly unbeatable record is threatened.
Jay: Let’s be honest I’m too stupid to understand how the Rays operate.
They’re a good team when teams that aren’t the Yanks or BoSox succeed, it’s good for baseball as a whole. So I’m rooting for them.
Also, to be clear, if it were Cleveland who was winning that efficiently on that low of a payroll I’d be throwing a temper tantrum but that’s because I’m a hypocrite. Screw the Guardians
Peter Kwasniak: Yeah, that’s my roundtable feedback for this week.
Adam: So you’re saying the Rays won the trade?
Brady McAtamney: I truly feel terrible for the rest of the AL East. This Rays team is ridiculous. The Jays, O’s and Yankees would probably all be clear front runners in the central, but they’re each several games out.
And they’re not really built like the Rays teams of old. This squad has STUDS. Randy, Wander and Shane Mac are all borderline superstars. They’re just a ridiculously fun team to watch. And all of that was done almost exclusively through signings and drafting. Not fair, man. Not fair at all.
And like Jay, I am also too stupid to understand how they operate.
Adam: I don’t have much more to offer on top of what my colleagues here have shared, but I will note that a roster does not necessarily need to be “star-studded” to find the kind of groove the Rays are in. Strong analytics and even stronger team chemistry can take a squad much further than the “studs and duds” model we saw when Dave Dombrowski was in town.
As Trevor mentioned, this success is sustainable if the design of the program is robust — and after years of perfecting it, they just may have hit paydirt. Fortunately, Tampa Bay is in the AL East while the Tigers are in the Central, which minimizes our exposure to them to a degree. In the meantime, I’ll be quietly cheering them on even if they threaten Detroit’s record start.
Patrick O’Kennedy: The Rays would basically have to do it all over again to match the 1984 Tigers’ 35-5 start. They are an exciting team to watch, and they could break records for home winning percentage.
Those are our collective takes on the Tampa Bay Rays’ scorching hot start. Tell us what you think in the comments below!