Rays still lead Yankees and Red Sox thanks to hot start, but a tough upcoming schedule will test Tampa Bay

The Tampa Bay Rays opened the season by taking three of four from a strong Astros team and have been sitting atop the mighty AL East since. Thanks to a 14-4 start, they built a nice cushion, too. It's an exciting team that has flourished in bucking baseball tradition on a few fronts and many fans adore the small-market underdog taking down the titans from New York and Boston.

In light of that, it might have flown under the radar that the Rays haven't been playing all that well here for a bit. 

After the aforementioned Astros series, the only team with a current winning record the Rays had played until last week was the Red Sox, and they went 2-3 against them. Otherwise, the Rays were beating up the likes of the Orioles, Royals, White Sox, Blue Jays and Giants. As the saying goes, you can only play the teams on your schedule and good teams should beat up on bad teams, so it's less a knock on the Rays here and more pointing out, maybe they were never really that great. 

Since that 14-4 start, they've gone 10-11. They've lost three of four, including dropping a series to the Yankees, who now trail them by just a half-game despite having faced major injury adversity. 

Speaking of which, the Rays now face some of that with breakout star pitcher Tyler Glasnow injured. It's a forearm strain -- which are scary because sometimes the next step is a torn UCL and Tommy John surgery -- and he's out another three to five weeks. Glasnow is 6-1 with a 1.86 ERA, 0.91 WHIP and 55 strikeouts against nine walks in 48 1/3 innings. He looked like he was about to make it two straight Cy Young winners from Tampa before the injury. 

Now without the pitcher who had been their best player, the Rays are set for an uptick in strength of schedule. There are two games against the hapless Marlins first, but after that...

  • 3 at Yankees (24-16 current record)
  • 2 vs. Dodgers (27-16)
  • 4 at Indians (21-18) 
  • 3 vs. Blue Jays (16-24) 
  • 4 vs. Twins (25-14) 
  • 3 at Tigers (18-20)
  • 4 at Red Sox (22-19)

To this point, the Rays' opponents collective winning percentage is .481, which ranks 26th in baseball. That stretch listed above carries a current .546 winning percentage. The toughest schedule so far this season has been the Diamondbacks at .542. Needless to say, it would behoove the Rays to win both against the Marlins before this grueling stretch. 

The Rays have been one of the best teams in baseball in 2019, but they've also benefited from an easy schedule. In this next month, we'll find out how serious a contender they are going to be this season. 

CBS Sports Writer

Matt Snyder has been a baseball writer with CBS Sports since 2011. A member of the BBWAA, he's now covered every World Series since 2010. The former Indiana University baseball player now lives on the... Full Bio

Our Latest Stories