For the Tampa Bay Rays, the moments of triumph in franchise history have been few and far between, and following 2008's World Series berth with an 84-78 performance in 2009 made the former look a bit like a blip. But their hot start to this season is worth celebrating, and confirmation that the Rays are no blips: With a 13-5 record and a half-game advantage on the Yankees, the Rays might just be the best team in baseball right now.
The only team with as good a record is the Twins, who have scored fewer runs and allowed more; in fact, every team in baseball has scored fewer runs than the Rays, who also have the best run differential in the majors. The Rays have the sixth-best ERA in baseball, are tied for sixth in team home runs, lead the majors in stolen bases, and are monsters on the road. Their 9-1 record is the best in baseball, and they've scored three times as many runs (69) as they've allowed (23), permitting two or fewer runs in eight of those games.
Now, calling any team the best in baseball is a recipe for argument, doing so this early in the season is practically worthless thanks to small sample size, and the Rays aren't the only team that could stake a claim to that title. They have flaws -- the difference between their ERA and their Fielding Independent Pitching is the biggest in baseball; their batting average is middle of the pack -- and there's another fantastic team in their own division.
The Yankees have a better FIP, a better Weighted On Base Average, haven't played the Orioles six times, and took two of three from the Rays in Tampa. The Yankees also have three times the payroll that the Rays do, but that's the advantage they have leveraged well in the last few years.
The Rays have had to make their high draft picks count, flip talented players for farm league depth before salaries soar, and ink homegrown studs to long-term deals early in their careers instead of risking arbitration. Their margin of error is very small, and their division is tough; the Rays were one of two teams in 2009 in the bottom ten in payroll without another team from their division in that segment of the population, and their pauper partners, the Athletics, had a losing record.
So maybe they're not unquestionably the best team on the field, or the team with the best situation off of it. But best-run seems like an appropriate adjective for these Rays, and they are definitely good enough to win a World Series.
If they get past the Yankees and do just that, the "best team in baseball" title won't even be up for debate.â†µ
This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.