ST. PETERSBURG -- In a 60-game season, getting off to a hot start could be crucial to a team’s success. Through five games, the Rays have answered the bell.
The Rays beat the Braves, 5-2, on Tuesday at Tropicana Field, sweeping the two-game set and finishing the opening five-game homestand with four straight wins and a 4-1 record. Tampa Bay outscored Toronto and Atlanta by a combined 14 runs during the homestand.
“It’s encouraging, especially against the quality of teams that we’re playing,” said Rays manager Kevin Cash. “We’ve just got to keep it going.”
Let’s take a look at three key stats that propelled the Rays to the successful homestand.
In order for the Rays to dethrone the Yankees for the American League East crown, they must have solid pitching. Tampa Bay’s staff was one of the best in the Majors last season, and it entered 2020 believing the group could be even better.
Through the first five games, the Rays’ pitching staff has lived up to the hype.
The Rays entered Tuesday’s game with 87 swinging strikes, which was third in the Majors. Led by Yonny Chirinos’ 12 swinging strikes, the pitching staff added 26 such strikes on Tuesday, pushing its total to 113.
“I think we have a really good staff,” Chirinos said. “I think we have a really good team, and the goal for us is to win every game.”
Tampa Bay's bullpen has been a bright spot over the past five games, but the rotation has been nearly unhittable during its first turn this season.
Blake Snell, Tyler Glasnow, Chirinos and Ryan Yarbrough combined to allow just one earned run over 15 1/3 innings, totaling a 0.59 ERA. Snell only tossed two innings, but he struck out five in his first start, and he is expected to be available for at least three innings in his next start, likely against Baltimore.
Glasnow was dominant in his first start, striking out nine and allowing one run over four innings. Yarbrough tossed 5 1/3 scoreless innings in his season debut and made his case to become a permanent starter. And Chirinos wrapped up the homestand with his strong effort Tuesday.
“It’s definitely reassuring that there are so many people on this team that can contribute,” Glasnow said. “I don’t even know if we have a solidified five-man rotation. We have like eight potential starting pitchers that can come up. … It’s extremely reassuring to know just how good we are and how much depth we [have].”
While the Rays’ pitching staff was the big strength over the homestand, the lineup was able to come up with some timely hitting. Sixteen of Tampa Bay’s 33 runs during the homestand came with two outs, including all five runs on Tuesday.
Also encouraging for the Rays’ offense is that after going 5-for-28 with runners in scoring position over the first three games of the season, Tampa Bay went 7-for-12 in such situations in the two-game set against the Braves.
The Rays’ offense also entered Tuesday’s game with an average exit velocity of 88.7 mph, the fourth highest in the AL. Tampa Bay’s offense is averaging 6.6 runs per game -- despite being without All-Star outfielder Austin Meadows.
“We’re fortunate with the lineups that we can run out right now that for the most part, we’re healthy,” Cash said. “We’re missing one big guy, for sure, in Austin, but the guys that are being called upon right now are doing a really good job filling in for such a huge part of our lineup with Austin.”
After a five-game homestand, Charlie Morton and the Rays will go on the road for the first time this season, beginning a two-game set against the Braves on Wednesday at Truist Park. Atlanta will counter with staff ace Mike Soroka, who tossed six scoreless innings in his first start. First pitch is set for 7:10 p.m. ET on Fox Sports Sun and MLB.TV.