Tampa Bay Rays shutting down opponents and more

The Tampa Bay Rays were expected to be terrible this season. Yes, under former manager Joe Maddon, Tampa Bay was a consistent presence in the playoffs, making the World Series in 2008 only to fall in five games to the Philadelphia Phillies. The Rays were always built on pitching with just enough hitting to get the job done.

Going into 2015, Tampa Bay didn’t appear to have much going in its favor. While third baseman Evan Longoria was still there, the rest of the lineup appeared anemic, especially without hotshot prospect Wil Myers, who was dealt in the offseason to the San Diego Padres. The Rays also traded away ace David Price at the 2014 trade deadline, making it appear like a full-blown rebuild was on the way.

Instead, the Rays are showing they are far from cashing in the chips. Going into the evening of June 20, Tampa Bay leads the tight American League East by a game over the New York Yankees. Even more shocking, the Rays pace the Boston Red Sox by a full nine games, something most believed would be next to impossible.

So how are they doing it? Pitching, pitching and more pitching.

Only the St. Louis Cardinals and Kansas City Royals have allowed less runs than the Rays, who have given up 243. Also, while Tampa Bay is very mediocre at home (19-19), it is a juggernaut away from the ugly confines of Tropicana Field with a 20-11 mark. The offense is only outscoring the Chicago White Sox and Seattle Mariners in the American League, but it has been adequate.

Without question, the leader of the team is young phenom Chris Archer. After showing potential in 2014, Archer has come alive in 2015 with a 8-4 mark to go with a 2.18 ERA. Perhaps even more impressively, Archer has 116 strikeouts in 95 innings while posting a 3.0 Wins Above Replacement. Jake Odorizzi has also been getting the job done with a 2.47 ERA, only walking 15 batters this season.

Blue Jays pounding the baseball

The Toronto Blue Jays don’t have much in the way of starting pitching, but boy can they hit. Toronto has scored more runs by a massive margin than anybody else in baseball, knocking in 382 runs. Due to this incredible offensive output, the Blue Jays have the best run differential in baseball at +82, even better than the St. Louis Cardinals, who have the best record in baseball.

At 37-33, Toronto sits in the middle of the wild card chase and only 2.5 games behind Tampa Bay in the AL East. With the trio of Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion powering the middle of that order, don’t expect the power surge to halt anytime soon.

The Blue Jays aren’t a legitimate championship contender, but they are a fascinating team to take in.

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