For the second time in three years, the Rays are going to the MLB playoffs as winners of the AL East. It's a remarkable achievement, given the payroll disparities; the Rays' 2008 and 2010 combined payrolls still come out $97 million below this year's Yankees. The Rays are the best-run organization in baseball, and they deserve the results they're getting.
This year's edition of the Rays famously got off to a white-hot start, sitting at 32-12 on May 23rd. The Rays then fell back to the pack and found themselves in third place in the division as late as July 3rd, but then the Red Sox dropped off and the Rays went on battling with the Yankees for first. It all came down to the final day, when the Yankees' loss in Boston gave Tampa Bay the AL East crown.
Like the Yankees, the Rays have been a virtual lock for the playoffs for a few months. Unlike the Yankees, the Rays didn't make a flurry of trades at the deadline, although they did add a reliever in Chad Qualls at the deadline and then a bench bat in Brad Hawpe in August. They know they're strong at the front of the rotation with David Price, and in the back of the bullpen with Rafael Soriano, Grant Balfour, and Joaquin Benoit. The questions come down to offensive consistency and starting pitching behind Price. Though both have tremendous ability, both James Shields and Matt Garza finished among the league leaders in home runs allowed.
David Price (SP; 2.72 ERA, 2.4 K/BB)
Matt Garza (SP; 3.91 ERA, 2.4 K/BB)
Rafael Soriano (RP; 1.73 ERA, 4.1 K/BB)