I'm writing this on July 29th, so for the purposes of this article, "a month ago" refers to June 29th. You will not be reading this on July 29th, unless I screw up and post it early, so you are still expected to use your imaginations.
A month ago, the Rays began the day in fourth place, seven games behind the Red Sox in the AL East. They had a good team, no one has ever really questioned that. They had a good team the year before, too, when their 90-72 record was good for a non-Wild Card third in the division.
See, "good" doesn't really get you too far in the AL East. They were 41-39 in the best division in baseball, and seemed destined for another heavily-praised but fruitless "good" season.
Some things have changed since then.
|Hitting (wRC+):||90||112||Tampa Bay
||95/100||98/96||Too Close to Call!|
Over the last 30 days, Tampa has gone 22-4. Following the victory over the Red Sox on Monday, they officially have the best record in the AL. They have the third-best wRC+, the best ERA, and the second-best FIP over the past 30 days as well. Give my apologies to the Dodgers,* but the Rays have been the best team in baseball for the last month.
Again, the offense is actually the most surprising aspect of this to me, as a casual observer of the AL. The narrative around the Rays, insofar as the Rays get a national narrative beyond "look at this plucky little team that occasionally annoys the Yankees and Red Sox," is that they win with pitching and defense and Joe Maddon.
While it's not totally true (no Rays team has had a below-average wRC+ since 2006), it sticks. And it is true that this is probably the best Rays offense relative to the league in a while.
What it all amounts to is that, in the last month, the Rays have upgraded their profile from that of a pretty good team to that of one of the two or three best teams in baseball this year.
*Actually, don't give my apologies to the Dodgers. Those guys are the worst.