Unbeaten Rays off to a start not seen since 1884

Everything's clicking for Tampa Bay, which has won all 6 games this season by 4 or more runs

April 5th, 2023

WASHINGTON -- With two series in the books, the Rays have done pretty much everything but lose.

They’ve pitched well, recording a 2.00 ERA after six games. They’ve played great defense. They’ve scored more runs than any team in baseball, with their lineup displaying an impressive mix of contact ability, power and speed. And it was all on display in their 7-2 win over the Nationals on Wednesday afternoon, Tampa Bay’s sixth consecutive victory to begin the season.

“It's team baseball,” starter said. “Through and through, team baseball.”

The Rays are winning the games they should win -- and winning big. They’ve outscored their opponents by 31 runs (44-13). They’ve won all six games by at least four runs, the longest such streak to begin a season in the modern era and the longest in MLB history, according to Opta Stats, since the 1884 St. Louis Maroons’ season-opening 13-game streak.

“We've got some real serious magic on this team,” reliever  said. “I think a lot of us could start to feel it in Spring Training. It's hard to explain. I just feel like the vibe is just a little bit unique this year.”

The Rays received contributions from all over the place on Wednesday, but arguably the most impressive performance came from McClanahan. Not because he dominated, but just the opposite. The left-hander tied a career high with four walks. He wasn’t particularly efficient. He still wound up with a quality start: six innings, two runs, six strikeouts.

McClanahan allowed four straight hits to start the fourth but escaped the inning having allowed only one run. Washington loaded the bases with nobody out, then McClanahan reached back for more to retire the next three hitters in a row, finishing the frame by blowing a 100.3 mph fastball by Lane Thomas.

“That's the beauty of baseball, man,” said McClanahan, who completed his last two innings on only 22 pitches. “Some days it's smooth sailing. Some days you've got to fight, claw with everything you've got to get through five or six.”

He got some help from Tampa Bay’s defense, which continued to shine. Right fielder  made another running, diving catch behind reliever Colin Poche, giving manager Kevin Cash some Opening Day-ja vu, but  once again stole the show.

With a runner on second and two outs in the first inning, Nationals cleanup hitter Joey Meneses smoked a 110.8 mph line drive to deep left field. Arozarena turned, took a few steps toward the warning track and left his feet, snaring the ball and lying flat on the outfield grass. 

Arozarena called it an “easy play.” Nobody else seemed to agree. With the play unfolding in front of their perch in the left-field bullpen, the Rays’ relievers stood, cheered and flashed Arozarena’s signature arms-crossed pose, which he returned with a smile.

“It gives me a lot of joy to see that they're following me and they're supporting me,” Arozarena said through interpreter Manny Navarro. “It makes me happy that I can do the same thing for them and that I can keep them entertained.”

Of course, the Rays knew they could expect stellar pitching and defense. The most pleasant surprise has been the early performance of their lineup, which is slashing .284/.348/.542 with 13 home runs, the most in franchise history through the first six games of a season.

and Harold Ramírez homered Wednesday, and the Rays found plenty of ways to score as seven hitters either scored or drove in at least one run.

“When you win six games out of the gate, a lot of people have got to do good things,” Cash said. “And it feels like, top to bottom, our entire roster is contributing in a positive way.”

The Rays got on the board in the second inning thanks to a bunt by Arozarena, who wound up scoring on two singles off Nationals starter Patrick Corbin and a sacrifice fly by Jose Siri. They strung together three hits in the sixth after Ramírez went deep, capitalizing on the opportunity when center fielder Victor Robles lost Taylor Walls’ fly ball -- which would have been the third out of the inning -- in the sun.

“I think we're playing really well. We're going to have bad moments in the season. It's a long season,” Arozarena said through Navarro. “I think with these good moments, we have to take advantage of them. As long as we keep on working as a team, I think we're going to be OK.”