The best records in Major League Baseball belong to the Texas Rangers, leaders of the American League West, and the Tampa Bay Rays, leaders of the AL East. This is of note right about now because these two early 2023 powerhouses will meet for the first time this season in a three-game series that gets underway Friday night at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg.
To set the scene for this clash of powers and potential ALCS preview, we're here to let you know the essentials about what may be the signature series of the first half of the season. Let's do it now.
1. The Rays and Rangers are backing up those sparkling records
Right now, the Rays are on pace for a whopping 115 wins during the regular season, and the Rangers are on pace for 106 wins. Obviously, those paces are going to be difficult to maintain, but it's worth noting that the SportsLine Projection system at the moment tabs the Rays for 108 wins and Texas for 98.
This speaks to the fact that both teams haven't overly benefitted from good fortune during their impressive starts to the season. In fact, the Rangers boast an MLB-best run differential of plus-154. That translates to an expected record of 44-17 versus Texas' actual record of 41-20. If anything, Bruce Bochy's squad has been unlucky thus far in 2023. As for the Rays, they have the game's second best run differential at plus-135, which puts their deserved record almost exactly in line with their actual mark. More impressive still, the Rays have authored such a body of work despite playing to date MLB's fourth-toughest schedule as measured by opponents' average winning percentage.
Peer a bit more deeply by using BaseRuns at FanGraphs, which projects a deserved record based on the fundamentals beneath runs scored and runs allowed, and the Rays and Rangers still come out as the best two teams in MLB.
2. They're thriving in almost all phases of the game
Not surprisingly, both clubs are good at many things that go into winning baseball games. Consider:
Rangers' 2023 MLB rank
Rays' 2023 MLB rank
Runs scored per game
Average Game Score
(Note: If any of the above metrics like FIP, Game Score and Defensive Efficiency are unfamiliar to you, then you get a quick introduction with.)
As you can see, these two teams are dominant when it comes to producing on offense (as our own Mike Axisa recently broke down,) and keeping runs off the board while their starters are pitching. If you're going to pick two baseball things to be good at, then those would be the leading choices. By implication, neither team has a bullpen that rises to meet the levels above, and in the Rays' case that's a reflection of their ongoing run of pitcher injuries (TB presently has four starters and five relievers on the injured list).
If there's a soft underbelly, it's that for each team, particularly when confronted with the "take and rake" bats on the other side. Don't be surprised if there's some back-and-forth on the scoreboard during the middle and late innings of this series. The Rangers will hope to parry this by continuing to get good length from their starters. The Rays will depend on manager Kevin Cash's creativity in his reliever deployment.
3. The pitching match-ups might favor Tampa Bay
Provided nothing changes, here's how the starting pitchers should square off in this series.
Friday: LHP Andrew Heaney (4.03 ERA, 4.79 FIP) vs. RHP Tyler Glasnow (3.72 ERA, 2.98 FIP)
Saturday: RHP Nathan Eovaldi (2.24 ERA, 2.45 FIP) vs. RHP Taj Bradley (3.60 ERA, 2.80 FIP)
Sunday: LHP Martin Perez (3.97 ERA, 4.72 FIP) vs. Shane McClanahan (2.02 ERA, 3.51 FIP)
This will be Glasnow's third start of the season since returning from injury, and he's a threat to find his ace level at any moment (his FIP suggests he already has). While Eovaldi has been one of the best starters in all of baseball this season, the Rays probably have the edge in the two bookend games. Otherwise, each team's offense has been quite a bit more productive against left-handers rather than right-handers this season, and the Rays get two face two lefty starters in this series.
4. You won't have to wait too long for the rematch
In the event you correctly find this series to be a compelling one even though it doesn't involve any of the sport's marquee franchises, there's good news. The Rays and Rangers will switch the scene to Texas soon after this series ends. Their second and final series of the season gets started early in the second half on July 17.