Rays Tales: Could this be their best team ever?

Itís early, obviously, but the comparisons to the 2008 and 2010 AL East champ teams are starting. Plus, lots of rumblings.
SP_296218_BORC_rays_17 (10/19/2008 St. Petersburg, FL) Evan Longoria and teammates celebrate in locker room after win, October 2008. JAMES BORCHUCK | Times
SP_296218_BORC_rays_17 (10/19/2008 St. Petersburg, FL) Evan Longoria and teammates celebrate in locker room after win, October 2008. JAMES BORCHUCK | Times
Published June 15

ST. PETERSBURG — With Friday’s win snapping their latest mini­-skid and putting the Rays back alone in first place in the AL East, they feel pretty good about what’s ahead this season, on a pace for 99 wins and a return to the playoffs.

They measure up pretty well to this point, and looking back, too. Knowing there is so much we don’t know about how the rest of this season plays out, here’s a question:

Could this be the best team the Rays have ever had?

Here’s a quick comparison to the 2008 and 2010 AL East championship teams, with totals and AL rank where applicable, and 2019 with full-season projections, through Friday:

Year 2008 2010 2019
W-L 97-65 96-66 99-63
Playoffs Lost in WS Lost in ALDS Leading AL East
Run differential 103 153 230
ERA 3.82 (2) 3.78 (2) 2.98 (1)
Walks+hits/innings pitched 1.286 (2) 1.255 (1) 1.116 (2)
Saves 52 (2) 51 (1) 40 (?)
Batting average .260 (13) .247 (13) .263 (3)
Runs 774 (9) 802 (3) 768 (?)
Runs per game 4.78 (9) 4.95 (3) 4.74 (9)
On-base percentage .762 (7) .736 (8) .776 (7)
Home runs 180 (4) 160 (6) 211 (?)
Defensive efficiency .708 (1) .709 (2) .711 (2)
Home record 57-23 49-32 43-38
Avg. attendance 22,259 (12) 22,758 (9) 14,164 (15)
Home run leader Pena 31 Pena 28 Lowe 33
RBI leader Pena 102 Longoria 104 Lowe 101
Wins leader Shields 14 Price 19 Morton 19

Short stops

• The uptick in attendance last week showed a few things: price does matter, which the Rays should note; the supposedly torturous trip to the hinterlands of downtown St. Petersburg on weekday nights actually is navigable when folks want it to be; and while the crowds were better, the number of discounted and free tickets was significant. Averaging 16,412 for the first five games of the homestand was better but hardly worth celebrating or viewing as a solution.

• With the Rays expected, in the words of one team official, to be “in on everybody” leading to the trade deadline, a guiding theme in acquisitions should be “been there, done that.’’ Of the current players, only a handful have been on playoff teams. A reliever, or two, seems the top need, though an impact player, such as Cleveland shortstop Francisco Lindor, would be intriguing.

• The Rays are being properly respectful of relievers Jose Alvarado’s privacy in not disclosing the reason for his extended absence, beyond acknowledging that he went home to Venezuela to deal with an issue that initially fell under the family medical emergency list. But when Alvarado, who left the team June 2 and was shifted to the unpaid restricted list on June 9, returns, he would seem to owe some kind of a public explanation.

Rays rumblings

Within the telling stretch of 47 games in 48 days, the Rays head out on a taxing trip, facing the Yankees and Twins, with a cross-country jaunt to Oakland in between. Beyond that, starting Monday they play 11 of their next 27 games against the Yankees. … Reliever Andrew Kittredge was set to be called up from Triple A last week when he got a more important call — from his wife, Tobey, in Seattle, that she was set to give birth. After eight hours on two flights, Kittredge made it for the birth of Brooks Phillip. … The Rays’ stalled stadium search and future is expected to be a topic of some discussion at this week’s quarterly MLB owners’ meeting in New York. … The new Trop host is Allie Krings, who hosted a variety of events in Minnesota and worked there with Rusty Kath, who was the ringmaster when he had the Rays gig. … The “Charlie Freakin’ Morton” T-shirts are cool but unoriginal. How about a “Charlie PBM Morton” version for his self-described “pedestrian boring me” approach. … Wander Franco moved up a spot to No. 1 on fangraphs.com’s prospect rankings, with Triple-A pitcher/DH Brendan McKay 12th, Class A infielder Vidal Brujan 22nd and Double-A outfielder Jesus Sanchez 41st. Franco, who also moved up to No. 1 on mlbpipeline.com, remains at Class A Bowling Green, for now. … A potential bullpen trade target is a familiar face, 2014-15 Ray Kirby Yates, who has 23 saves and a 1.24 ERA for the Padres and is making a reasonable $3.1 million with free agency ahead. … Those always clever Durham Bulls played Friday as the Lollygaggers, playing off the scene in the classic Bull Durham movie. … What’s billed as the “world’s largest Christmas light maze and market” will be held inside the Trop on Nov. 22 through Dec. 29. … Tough going for ex-Ray Alex Cobb, who was 5-15, 4.90 to start his four-year, $57 million deal with Baltimore, then 0-2, 10.95 this year before having season-ending hip surgery. … Baseball America named McKay the Rays’ midseason minor-league player of the year, noting “with each additional scoreless inning, McKay looks more like a “pitcher” than a “two-way player.’’ … Cool to see ex-Ray Jake Bauers, who had been struggling in Cleveland, hit for the cycle Friday. … The Rays were sixth in a ranking of best defensive infields by Sports Info Solutions’ Mark Simon. … Former Ray Chris Archer is having issues in Pittsburgh, allowing four home runs in one inning (and five homers total) on Tuesday, and posting a 3-6, 5.73 record overall, allowing an NL-most 16 homers among 58 hits and 30 walks in 59⅔ innings.

Contact Marc Topkin at mtopkin@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.

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