Latest rout has Rays making all kinds of history

April 19th, 2023

CINCINNATI -- Last October, the Rays lineup was humbled. They were banged up, sure, and facing a talented Cleveland pitching staff in the American League Wild Card Series. But they only needed a little offense to potentially go a long way, and all they could muster was one run over 24 innings as they were swept out of the postseason.

“It stuck with them the whole offseason,” Rays hitting coach Chad Mottola said Wednesday. “They continue to put the work in, day-in, day-out, and it’s pretty contagious right now.”

Pretty impressive, too.

The Rays’ early offensive onslaught continued in Wednesday afternoon’s series finale at Great American Ball Park, where they put up six runs on seven hits in the first inning and rolled from there to an 8-0 win over the Reds.

“It's a terrifying lineup,” said Rays starter , who struck out seven over five innings. “There’s a lot of depth. … You’ve got to get a lot of really good hitters out right now, and it's awesome when they're all clicking like this.”

The victory continued a remarkably successful start to the season for the Rays, who are 16-3 with a Modern Era-record-setting run differential of plus-83. They lead the Majors with 133 runs scored and 42 homers, and no team has allowed fewer runs than the 50 they’ve permitted. Previously, the best run differential through the first 19 games of a season was plus-79, held by the 1905 New York Giants.

That statistic is just one of many reflecting Tampa Bay’s all-around dominance so far. For all the attention their improved offense is receiving, Wednesday was also their pitching staff’s sixth shutout. Only three other teams in the Modern Era have recorded six shutouts within the first 19 games of a season: Detroit in 1945, Cleveland in ‘66 and Texas in ‘81.

“We’re doing good things,” manager Kevin Cash said. “Hopefully, we just continue.”

The Rays didn’t let Reds prospect Levi Stoudt get comfortable in his Major League debut, immediately putting together the kind of big inning they’re growing accustomed to.

 ripped the third pitch of the game into the left-field seats for a leadoff homer. The 114.5 mph blast (Díaz’s sixth of the season) extended Tampa Bay’s season-opening home run streak to 19 games, the second-longest to begin a season in Major League history behind only the 2019 Mariners’ 20-game run.

“When things are going well, you really don't have to do too much,” Díaz said. “Just stick with the work and the routine, and that's what we do.”

That was just the beginning of their opening blitz against Stoudt. singled to center, smashed a 114.3 mph single off the left-field wall, delivered a one-out two-run double, and  drove in two runs with a single to right.

“Hitting is extremely contagious, and it feels like when one guy gets going, the next guy just wants to hop on the train and keep it rolling,” Brandon Lowe said. “It's just that kind of thing. It turns into a little bit of a feeding frenzy.”

 kept the rally going with an RBI double to left, advanced to third on the throw to the plate and scored on a balk to make it 6-0 before Stoudt recorded his second out.

The Rays wound up sending 10 men to the plate during the 35-pitch frame, the fifth time this season they’ve batted around in an inning. By comparison, they did so 14 times all of last year.

“They're feeding off each other. They're not forcing the issue by swinging out of [the strike] zone. They're getting their pitches,” Mottola said. “It's something that we want to ride right now.”

While lefty Josh Fleming (three innings) and righty Pete Fairbanks (one) finished the game for the Rays, their lineup so thoroughly exhausted the Reds’ pitching staff that Cincinnati sent a position player to the mound for the second straight day -- catcher Luke Maile in Tuesday’s 10-0 rout, infielder Jason Vosler on Wednesday.

“It just shows kind of what another year and everybody coming back and doing what they're supposed to do this offseason can do for us,” Lowe said. “This team, when we're healthy and rolling, is an extremely dangerous team. And it doesn't take all nine guys to be hitting to do that, but it sure is nice when you can go out there and you can roll out one through nine.”