These stars kept Rays on top of MLB in May

June 2nd, 2023

This story was excerpted from Adam Berry’s Rays Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

BOSTON -- After taking the field each of the last 16 days, and 29 of the last 30, the Rays earned their rest on Thursday.

The Rays began the month of June with a scheduled off-day in Boston after a May that challenged them yet did nothing to refute the notion that Tampa Bay remains the best team in baseball.

“We’re pitching. We’re hitting,” said through interpreter Manny Navarro. “I think putting all that together makes us the best team in the league.”

The Rays entered Friday’s series opener at Fenway Park with a 40-18 record, the Majors’ top mark, after completing a grueling stretch in which they went 17-12 against eight clubs that had a combined .540 winning percentage through play on Wednesday. (Neither here nor there, but that clip would have led either Central division as of Thursday morning.)’s Sarah Langs looked yesterday at what it means to be in first place on June 1 and a few other key points to monitor moving forward. The Rays’ schedule will lighten up a bit this month, and the three scheduled off-days will be nice after such a long haul through May, but the American League East provides little margin for error.

Before looking ahead, though, let’s review some of the Rays’ top performers from the past month.

Player of the Month

As of Thursday’s off-day, this is the complete list of qualified American League hitters with a better OPS than Díaz: . That’s it.

Díaz has been a machine for the Rays, lifting more of his hard-hit balls to add power to his patient approach at the plate. As a result, he’s hitting .310/.410/.580 with 12 homers and 30 RBIs, and he’s still only struck out four more times (30) than he’s walked (26) while batting atop Tampa Bay’s lineup. Last month, Díaz hit .300/.398/.575 with five homers and 14 RBIs in 21 games. He’s delivering consistent, star-level production.

Díaz is the pick here, but he had plenty of competition from the likes of…

  • : team-leading eight homers
  • : .859 OPS, seven steals
  • : 20 walks last month, only three fewer than he had in the entire first half last year
  • : six homers, team-leading 19 RBIs, eight steals
  • , who, according to Baseball-Reference’s Wins Above Replacement, has been the most valuable player in baseball two months into the season.

Pitcher of the Month

was good in May, posting a 3.46 ERA while logging 36 strikeouts and only five walks as the Rays went 5-1 behind him. He provided valuable length, too, working six innings in three of his starts and seven in the other three. ’s strikeout-to-walk numbers are remarkable for such a young pitcher with power stuff, and   remains nasty.

But this has got to be the guy at the top of’s latest Starting Pitcher Power Rankings, right?

is having the kind of first half that will make him a candidate to start the All-Star Game for a second straight year. He’s had some issues with his control, with 13 walks in 35 2/3 innings last month, but few starters in the Majors can match his combination of stuff and determination. The lefty put together a 2.02 ERA and struck out 40 batters over six starts in May.

The performance that stood out most? It was arguably his best start of the season on May 24, when McClanahan set the tone for a convincing victory the day after the Rays’ ugly 20-1 loss to the Blue Jays. That’s what an ace does.

Reliever of the Month

These stats are occasionally affected by the Rays’ opener/bulk-inning strategy, plus the odd position-player pitching performance, but the numbers will catch your attention regardless: Tampa Bay had the Majors’ worst bullpen ERA (5.73), WHIP (1.57), strikeout rate (18.5%) and strikeout-to-walk ratio (1.82) last month.

Things should get better as , and, eventually, get healthy and other arms get right -- had probably his best stuff of the year during his two-inning save against the Dodgers, a good sign -- but this is clearly the biggest non-injury area of concern right now.

We’ll give this nod to a reliever who opened four games in May and saved the last one: . The left-hander had a rough April, but he recorded a 1.80 ERA with 19 strikeouts and six walks and held opponents to a .508 OPS in 15 innings over 11 outings. Given his recent performance, there might be more opportunities for Beeks late in games.