AP Sports

Confident Rays not surprised by 11-0 start to season

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — The streaking Tampa Bay Rays are running out of superlatives to describe baseball’s best start in more than three decades.

Remarkable, incredible, unbelievable — even crazy — are words players have used to describe the dominant, all-around team effort that has carried them to an 11-0 record that’s the toast of the big leagues two weeks into the season.

The Rays, who have made the playoffs each of the past four years, expected to be good.

But no one could have envisioned them joining the 1987 Milwaukee Brewers, 1982 Atlanta Braves, 1981 Oakland Athletics, 1966 Cleveland Indians, 1962 Pittsburgh Pirates and 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers as the only clubs to begin seasons with double-digit win streaks. Of those teams, only the Dodgers won the World Series.

“Pretty exciting. Doing it the way we have, every facet of our game is really performing, producing and contributing,” manager Kevin Cash said. “Normally it doesn’t work out that way.”

Through Tuesday night’s 7-2 victory against the Boston Red Sox, the Rays have swatted a majors-leading 29 homers and outscored opponents 83-20 for baseball’s fastest getaway since the ’87 Brewers won 13 in a row to tie the ’82 Braves for the longest win streak to start a season.

Tampa Bay won its first nine games by four runs or more, the longest such streak at any point in a season since the New York Yankees rattled off 10 in a row in 1939.

“Truthfully, I don’t think we’ve talked about it. We’re just here to play our brand of baseball. … We just have fun with each other, and go out there and have a blast,” ace Shane McClanahan said.

“It’s fun to be in this clubhouse regardless of the streak, to be honest with you,” McClanahan added. “I’ll tell you the truth, that’s the last thing we’re concerned about. … Part of what we do is no matter what, we have the same mentality out there.”

In addition to swinging torrid bats, the pitching and defense have been superb, too, with No. 3 and No. 4 starters Jeffrey Springs and Drew Rasmussen each winning twice and posting 13 scoreless innings over their first two outings.

McClanahan, a first-time All-Star a year ago, is 3-0 with a 1.59 ERA through three starts, while offseason acquisition Zach Eflin (2-0, 3.27) has been impressive after signing a $40 million, three-year contract — the largest the budget-minded Rays have ever awarded in free agency. Eflin was placed on the injured list Tuesday with back tightness.

That group has thrived even without star right-hander Tyler Glasnow, who has been sidelined by a left oblique strain since spring training.

Eflin and rookie reliever Kevin Kelly were the only new faces on the opening-day roster, so it’s not surprising that pieces have come together quickly.

“This is incredible baseball that we’re playing,” said second baseman Brandon Lowe, whose eighth-inning homer beat Boston 1-0 on Monday night. “We gotta keep it up.”

That won’t be easy, especially in the rugged AL East, where the defending division champion Yankees and young, talented Toronto Blue Jays once again are expected to contend for playoff berths.

Tampa Bay won its first nine games against the last-place Tigers, Nationals and A’s, who were a combined 8-22 entering Tuesday night.

Regardless of the competition, though, winning 10 in a row at any point in a season is difficult to do.

Offensively, Lowe and 22-year-old shortstop Wander Franco are off to strong starts after being hampered by injuries for much of 2022.

Randy Arozarena, Harold Ramirez, Yandy Díaz, Manuel Margot and Josh Lowe have been key contributors, too, as the Rays thrive on timely production throughout a lineup that lost defensive whiz Kevin Kiermaier, first baseman Ji-Man Choi and catcher Mike Zunino from last season.

Brandon Lowe noted the offense is producing much the way the Rays felt it could once all the key components recovered from injuries.

“It’s just nice to see it all come together,” Lowe said.

“They’re doing something that hasn’t been done in quite some time. We should be proud of that,” Cash said. “The good thing about this club is, they win, they enjoy it and … they’re ready (to play) the next day. They hold themselves to a high standard and want to be ready to go.”

The Rays also know it’s early.

“It feels nice to get in here and celebrate. … But, you know, we are, what, 16% done with the season, something like that,” reliever Pete Fairbanks said.

Three of the six previous teams to begin at least 10-0 missed the postseason, so the hot start is certainly no guarantee of October success.

“So, there’s a lot of baseball to play, and I don’t think we should ride too high or get too low after anything that’s happening in the first 10 days of March and April,” Fairbanks added. “But it is a lot of fun to go out there and see what the guys on the offensive side are doing and then to watch our (pitchers) roll out our stuff.”

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