The Tampa Bay Rays have won again, meaning they are 13-0 and have joined an exclusive club in Major League Baseball history. This is now tied with two other teams for the longest-ever winning streak to open a season. The latest result was Thursday's matinee in Tropicana Field, which the Rays won 9-3 over the Red Sox.
The Rays actually fell behind in this one and things weren't looking good. It was 3-1 Red Sox through the middle of the fifth inning and Boston had seemingly gotten every break to that point.
Then the 2023 Rays happened.
A modest rally made it 3-2 Red Sox with runners on first and third and two out when manager Alex Cora went to the bullpen. Richard Bleier came on in relief of starter Corey Kluber. Brandon Lowe singled home the tying run. Randy Arozarena singled home the go-ahead run. Wander Franco was hit by a pitch to load the bases. Manuel Margot laid down a bunt so perfect down the third-base line there wasn't even an attempted throw to any base. It was 5-3 Rays. Then Harold Ramirez -- who started the inning with a double -- doubled again. This time it scored three and it was 8-3 Rays, just like that.
That's how fast it's been happening all season and they often have a feeling of inevitability once a rally like that starts.
They are now 13-0.
Let's run through some more things to know on this historic streak.
1. Springs injury looms
Sorry that there is bad news, but we'll start off with it and get it out of the way.
Despite storming back with the big inning and another comfortable victory, there were still some bad vibes hanging over this one.
Starting pitcher Jeffrey Springs was off to an amazing start to the season. It would be folly to say anyone was on a Cy Young track after two starts, so we'll just say he had built the foundation of a Cy Young through his first two outings. Even looping in the three innings Thursday, which included his first run allowed of the season, Springs has a 0.56 ERA and 0.50 WHIP with 24 strikeouts in 16 innings.
His injury looked really worrisome, though, and sounds like it, too., but the diagnosis is left arm ulnar neuritis, which is an injury in his left elbow. Again, worrisome.
2. The previous 13-0 teams
The 1982 Braves won their first 13 games, but that streak was immediately followed by a five-game losing streak. They then won five of their next six to get to 18-6 with some very weird sequencing. They went 9-14 to finish May with a 27-20 record. Atlanta then put up a losing record after the All-Star break and finished the year 89-73. Pretty mediocre after the 13-0 start, but they still won the NL East before being swept out of the NLCS. That gives us a good idea at how well a team can set itself up with an early-season winning streak like this.
The 1987 Brewers also started 13-0. They lost one game before another winning streak, this time of four games. They were then 20-3 before losing -- brace yourself -- 12 in a row and 18 of 20. Holy smokes, right? The Brewers were 22-21 after all that. They then won six in a row and were looking like they were ready to claim the title of streakiest team in MLB history.
They finished 91-71. At the time, it was only good for third place in the AL East, but that was with two divisions of seven teams and no Wild Card. It was the third-best record in the AL (the Twins won the AL West with 85 wins and ended up World Series champs). Had there been Wild Cards, it could very well have ended up a special Brewers season.
The Rays have matched these two teams and could surpass them Friday. We'll get to that.
3. Previous Rays winning streaks
The longest winning streak in franchise history before this season started was 12.
That means the historic win Thursday also establishes the new franchise record. In the parlance of the late, great Mel Allen, how about that?
The 2004 Devil Rays won 12 games from June 9-22. It was part of a month where they went 20-6 after having won eight of their last 11 games in May. At the time, the Devil Rays had never finished anywhere other than last and hadn't even won 70 games in a season through the first six years of their existence. And headed to July, they were 38-37.
They would go 32-54 the rest of the way, though they had their best season ever with 70 wins and a fourth-place finish.
The Rays won 11 in a row through the middle of May 2021 and that team had a bit more staying power, hitting 100 wins for the first time in franchise history.
This 2023 team bears a lot more resemblance to the 2021 group.
At any rate, this winning streak marks the third in double digits in Rays/Devil Rays history and is the new record.
4. Run differential
Through 12 games, the Rays outscored their opponents by 65 runs, which was the third-highest run differential through 12 games in MLB history. They also only trailed for five innings out of 108, which was the third-best such mark. The two teams ahead of them here were the 1884 Gothams and Maroons and that was back before baseball's current dimensions (via mlb.com).
This is to say that it's possible to frame this as the most impressive start in modern MLB history.
With yet another comfortable win Thursday, the Rays now have an absurd +71 run differential through 13 games. Only seven teams were better than that last season through 162 games. Five teams that made the playoffs, including the Rays and the pennant-winning Phillies, were below that.
For more perspective, the highest run differential in MLB history would be those 1884 Maroons at +458. In "modern" ball, the 1939 Yankees stand at the top with a +411 differential. The Rays are on pace to have a +885, though that would be outrageous because they are going to lose plenty of games and the "pace" would be an undefeated 162-0 season.
5. Home run differential
Call it home run differential or margin or whatever you please, as we aren't trying to invent some new shorthand stat or anything. But for all the talk about small ball and the new rules intending to put more action on the field -- and they do! -- the Rays have been crushing their opponents by controlling the home run game.
Through their first 12 games, the Rays led the majors with 30 home runs. Their pitching staff had only allowed five home runs, which was the fewest in baseball.
On Thursday, the Rays led off the bottom of the first with a Yandy Díaz homer.
Later, Brandon Lowe clubbed his fifth of the season with a seventh-inning shot.
The Red Sox hit one homer as well (Rob Refsnyder in the first inning), but the Rays still outhomered them. 32-6 is quite a margin of home runs vs. home runs allowed. Only the 2019 Mariners (33) and 2000 Cardinals (also 33) hit more home runs through 13 games than these Rays (via Sarah Langs).
In fact, the Rays have only allowed 30 runs all season. They've hit more home runs than they've allowed runs.
6. Nice attendance
The Rays announced the attendance as 21,175 for the game. They averaged 13,927 per game last season and while there might have been some lingering effect of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Rays were coming off a 100-win season. Also, this was a day game on a Thursday in April which is typically difficult for teams to fill (unless you're talking about the Cubs in Wrigley when they are an expected contender).
Simply, that's a huge number for the Rays under the circumstances.
7. The weak schedule
No one should be figuring opponents' winning percentage right now with such a small sample, especially since the Rays being 13-0 automatically means their opponents are starting 13 games in the hole. Still, the Red Sox are probably the worst team in a strong AL East and the other three teams the Rays have played -- the Nationals, Tigers and A's -- are arguably the three very worst teams in baseball.
I think the talk from other fan bases is stressing the schedule too much, as even the best teams we've seen in recent memory would tear through such stretches at something like 9-4 while considering it a success. On the other hand, it would be a mistake to ignore the context. We can balance everything by saying it's been an easy schedule while also recognizing the historical greatness on display from the Rays.
8. Up next
The schedule is about to take a hard turn.
The Rays head to Toronto to take on the Blue Jays, who Jays went 6-4 on a season-opening road trip that included series against the Cardinals and Angels. The Blue Jays won the season series over the Rays last year, 10 games to nine. In Toronto, it was five games to four in favor of the Blue Jays.
The Rays will have a good shot at history, though, because José Berríos is the expected starter for the Blue Jays. The two-time All-Star was one of the worst starters in baseball last season with a 5.23 ERA while leading the AL in hits and earned runs allowed. Through two starts this season, he hasn't looked fixed: 0-2 with an 11.17 ERA and 1.86 WHIP, including being torched by the Royals. Last year, the Rays got him for 10 runs (nine earned, for a 6.08 ERA) on 21 hits in 13 1/3 innings.
Drew Rasmussen will get the ball for the Rays. He's 2-0 with a 0.00 ERA in 13 innings this season and has struck out 15 without a walk. In 146 innings last year, he posted a 2.84 ERA. He saw the Blue Jays five times in 2022, pitching to a 2.70 ERA.
The game is scheduled for 7:07 p.m. ET. The longest winning streak to start a season in MLB history is on the line.