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Heading into the week, the marquee matchup in baseball was the Tampa Bay Rays hosting the Pittsburgh Pirates. And, sure, that might've sounded funny to many baseball fans, but it was the team with the best record in baseball against the team with the second-best record. 

The Rays ended up making relatively easy work of the Pirates. They closed down the series finale on Thursday, 3-2, behind sparkling mound work from Zach Eflin and, per usual, the longball. 

Zach Eflin
TB • SP • #24
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The Rays' three runs were solo homers from Randy Arozarena, Yandy Díaz and Taylor Walls

In looping in the previous two games, the Rays outscored the Pirates by a count of 15-4 in the three-game sweep. 

The Pirates are now 20-12, which is still a very admirable record to this point in the season and they remain in first place in the NL Central. The big picture story here is, still, the surging Rays. 

They are now an absurd 26-6 to start the 2023 season. There isn't really much precedent for this kind of start. In looking at the first 32 games of a season, only 35 in MLB history have won at least 24. 

  • The following teams won 25 of their first 32 games: 1905 Giants*, 1912 Giants, 1921 Pirates, 1946 Red Sox, 1955 Dodgers*, 1958 Yankees*, 1972 Mets, 1977 Dodgers, 1998 Yankees*, 2016 Cubs*
  • The following teams won 26 of their first 32 games: 1907 Cubs*, 1928 Yankees*, 1939 Yankees*, 2023 Rays
  • The following teams won 27 of their first 32 games: 1902 Pirates, 1911 Tigers, 1984 Tigers*

The * notes that the team went on to win the World Series. 

Only three of those teams listed did not win the pennant, with the most recent being the '72 Mets. Since integration, the only team we've seen win as many games in the first 32 as these Rays was the 1984 Tigers. The only teams we've seen come close since were the '98 Yankees and '16 Cubs, both pretty special groups even among World Series champions. 

Decent company, huh? 

There's a long way to go in this 2023 campaign. The Rays still have 130 games, meaning they've played just 19.7 percent of the schedule. They only entered Thursday with a 4 1/2-game lead in the AL East. We've seen far bigger leads squandered in much less time throughout history, even including last season. 

Still, the Rays have set themselves up incredibly, better than nearly every other team in MLB history. Such a feat doesn't guarantee anything, but the history says it's significant. If nothing else, they've given themselves an awful lot of wiggle room in advance of any possible downturns.