Before looking forward to the start of the Rays’ 24th season, we looked back to rank the club’s top five seasons by winning percentage. With one tie, we fittingly enough managed to stretch out the list to include each of the franchise’s six postseason appearances.
And as you’ll see, this list also proceeds in a way that linearly reflects their success in the postseason: from two American League East champions that fell short in the World Series to a division champ that lost in the AL Division Series to a trio of Wild Card clubs that fell short in the ALDS.
1. 2020 | Record: 40-20 (.667)
You can’t fault the latest edition of the Rays for only having a 60-game schedule, because they made the most out of the shortened season that was played amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Tampa Bay flexed its pitching depth and dominance throughout the season as AL Manager of the Year Award winner Kevin Cash rode established starters like Blake Snell, Ryan Yarbrough, Tyler Glasnow and Charlie Morton along with a hard-throwing bullpen nicknamed “The Stable” to the club’s third AL East title. Randy Arozarena put together a postseason like no other. Mike Brosseau’s triumphant home run pushed them past the Yankees in the ALDS. They escaped the Astros in the AL Championship Series and authored one of the most memorable moments in franchise history in World Series Game 4, before falling frustratingly short against the Dodgers in Game 6.
2. 2008 | Record: 97-65 (.599)
After 10 straight losing seasons as the Devil Rays, Tampa Bay changed its name and pulled off a remarkable worst-to-first turnaround. The 2008 Rays vaulted into contention under manager Joe Maddon with young veterans like James Shields, Carl Crawford and Carlos Peña and rookie stars Evan Longoria and David Price. In the end, Longoria was named AL Rookie of the Year and Maddon the AL Manager of the Year. The Rays won the AL East for the first time and beat the Red Sox to claim their first AL pennant, before going on to lose the World Series to the Phillies in five games.
3a. 2010 | Record: 96-66 (.593)
Both the 2010 and ’19 clubs finished 96-66 and lost, 3-2, in the ALDS. But we’ll give the '10 club the slight edge here for having won the division, the second of three AL East titles in franchise history. This club got the most out of its stars, especially Longoria (143 OPS+, 104 RBIs, 8.2 WAR), Crawford (135 OPS+, 47 steals, 7 WAR) and Price (19-6, 2.72 ERA, 4.7 WAR). They played incredible defense all over the diamond, and the bullpen -- led by closer Rafael Soriano (45 saves) and setup men Joaquin Benoit (1.34 ERA) and Grant Balfour (2.28 ERA) -- was lights-out. This team seemed bound for great things, only to fall to Cliff Lee and the Rangers in Game 5 of the ALDS.
3b. 2019 | Record: 96-66 (.593)
As successful as the club has been since its rebirth as the Rays, Tampa Bay went five straight seasons without reaching the postseason from 2014-18. But this '19 team, led by All-Stars Morton, Austin Meadows and Brandon Lowe, ended that drought and marked the start of something new. They received key contributions from veterans like Tommy Pham, Avisaíl García and Travis d'Arnaud, not to mention homegrown center fielder Kevin Kiermaier and reigning AL Cy Young Award winner Snell. But they also had a young core in Willy Adames, Meadows, Lowe, Glasnow and Yarbrough, among others, who returned and led the team to the World Series a year later. These Rays beat the A’s in the AL Wild Card Game, before losing the ALDS to the Astros in five games.
4. 2013 | Record: 92-71 (.564)
Yes, this team gets a leg up on the next one simply because they needed a 163rd game to seal a postseason spot. That 92nd win, a complete-game effort by Price, sent the 2013 Rays to the AL Wild Card Game to beat Cleveland, 4-0. They finally met their end in the ALDS against the eventual champion Red Sox, who won the series in four games despite a Game 3 walk-off homer by Jose Lobaton and a frantic, whole-staff pitching performance that nearly worked in Game 4. Longoria starred again for this team, hitting 32 homers in 160 games, and Price was joined atop the rotation by three impressive young arms: Alex Cobb, Matt Moore and Chris Archer. Closer Fernando Rodney led a solid bullpen, and Wil Myers -- then a top prospect acquired for Shields and Wade Davis -- added a big bat to the lineup in the second half before taking home the AL Rookie of the Year Award.
5. 2011 | Record: 91-71 (.562)
Game 162. Need we say more? OK, fine. It’s not just that this club won 91 games and completed an unbelievable finish to claim the AL Wild Card spot, even if the Rays ultimately lost to the Blue Jays in four games in the ALDS. It’s that they did it all with an Opening Day payroll $30 million lower than the previous year after losing Crawford, Peña, Soriano, Balfour, Benoit, Matt Garza, Jason Bartlett, Dan Wheeler and Randy Choate, among others. Ben Zobrist delivered a huge season. Longoria was brilliant when healthy. Shields became “Complete Game James.” Jeremy Hellickson was the AL Rookie of the Year. Veterans Kyle Farnsworth and Joel Peralta stepped up in the bullpen. Dan Johnson was again there when the Rays needed him. Just about everybody contributed something, and the season culminated with one of the most memorable nights in recent baseball history.