Kim Klement, USA Today Sports
- The Tampa Bay Rays are 750-1 to win the World Series entering the All-Star Break.
- Despite those long odds, Tampa has quietly put together a good first half and could get even better down the stretch.
- The Rays will, in all likelihood, fall short of the playoffs. But that doesn't mean they aren't a good bet.
The Tampa Bay Rays began the season 1-8 and it looked like their 2018 campaign was dead before it even got going. Since then, the Rays are 48-39 and have my attention, despite being 750-1 to win the World Series.
Tampa Bay is 49-47 at the All-Star break, which leaves the Rays 18 games back in the American League East and 8.5 games behind Seattle for the second wild-card spot. Obviously, the division is out of the question, but a wild-card berth is certainly possible, albeit unlikely. Between Tampa and Seattle are the surging Oakland A’s, who are just three games back at the checkpoint.
I like the Rays, but a major part of this bet is fading Seattle. As impressive as the Mariners were in the first half, their record is propped up by a lot of luck while the Rays’ record undersells how good they’ve been. Seattle and Tampa Bay are tied for the most one-run games this season (38), but the Mariners have won nine more games (26) than the Rays (17) in contests decided by one run. Those nine wins are what separates these two teams. The Athletics have also been one-run wizards this season with a 15-8 record.
The A’s have the best run differential (+24) of these three teams but Tampa isn’t far behind (+20) while Seattle actually has a -2 run differential. That also points to regression for the M’s.
The Rays should regress in the second half, but their regression figures to be positive. They have won eight fewer games than their 3rd-order win percentage (a team’s projected winning percentage, based on underlying statistics and adjusted for quality of opponents) suggests they should have won. The Mariners have outperformed their 3rd-order win percentage by seven wins and the A’s have outperformed theirs by three.
And, of course, we must talk about “The Opener.” The Rays’ new pitching experiment in which they have a reliever, often Ryne Stanek, start a game and pitch the first inning before handing the ball off. Since the Rays started using an “opener” on May 19, they have skyrocketed to the top of the leaderboards in a bevy of pitching categories.
Tampa’s success goes beyond their new strategy. Ace Blake Snell is one of the best pitchers in baseball this season, and with Chris Archer and Nathan Eovaldi behind him, the Rays have a good rotation.
One area where the Rays have benefited from good luck is their batting average on balls in play (BABIP). Tampa currently boasts a .317 BABIP, which is the second-highest in the league. That number suggests their offense is running a bit hot, but their other offensive metrics show that they are basically on par with Oakland and Seattle, as the three teams are separated by just three basis points in terms of weighted on-base average (wOBA).
Another concern if you’re backing the Rays is that they are a small-market team and could end up cashing in on some players at the trade deadline. Archer and Eovaldi will surely draw some interest from other contenders, as will catcher Wilson Ramos. That isn’t ideal, but there are going to be a lot of red flags when you back a team at these odds.
Even if the Rays do capture the second wild card, they will be heavy underdogs in the one-game playoff against the Yankees or Red Sox. Still, that’s just one game they need to win to get into the playoffs, and if you get a 750-1 ticket into October, you’re already way ahead.
It’s important to remember with a dart such as this one that you are not expecting it to cash, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a good — and fun — bet to make for the second half.