MLB Notes: How the Rays go down in history, pass on a golden Glover and more

Quick – Which team has the best OPS in baseball? That would be Tampa Bay (. 967), whose 9-0 start was one of the best early in baseball. In typical Rays fashion, they do it up and down the lineup, with not a single player in the top 10 in individual OPS as of Sunday afternoon (Wander Franco, through nine games, is 11th with a 1.157).

Critics will point to the strength of the Rays’ early schedule, which included the Detroit Tigers, Washington Nationals and Oakland Athletics, three teams not expected to compete. However, Tampa Bay not only beat inferior opponents, they beat them. The Rays won every game by four or more runs and outscored their opponents 75-18. Their run differential, already the largest in the modern era to start a season, is now a ridiculous 57 plus over their first nine games. The 18 innings allowed through nine games is a new franchise record.

How do the Rays do this, especially offensively, which was a concern early in the season? A big part of a player’s health is Jose Serri (hamstring) who was the first player to land on the injured list on Saturday. Tampa Bay was one of the hardest hit teams in baseball last year. According to the Man Games Lost website, which tracks total games missed by injuries and official assignments for IL, Tampa Bay’s total injuries accounted for 1,656 games missed, which trails only Cincinnati, Washington and Chicago Cubs, three non-content teams.

“We’re healthier than we were last year,” Kevin Cash said last week. “It’s pretty much the same group I think. So if we had that group running, I think we would have felt the same way. We’ve never been able to put them on the field all at once. … We have a good mix of strength and connection.”

The Rays lead the majors in home runs and runs scored and are second in. 289 batting average. This lineup may have been overlooked by baseball pundits, to which the Rays are accustomed. Earlier this year, an article ranked the 10 best courses in baseball. Tampa Bay was not in the top five.

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It is a gross oversight and it did not escape the people in the organization. Tampa Bay, in its 25th anniversary, has put together a rookie team that has the potential to be historically good. Going into Sunday’s games, Rays catchers are second in baseball in ERA, fourth in walks allowed, and fifth in strikeouts. They trail only the Dodgers in pitches per half at 14.31, and the number is still improving with starting Tyler Glasnow (slash) expected to return in mid-May. Glasno could give the Rays a third arm off the top spin along with Shane McClanahan and Jeff Springs. Drew Rasmussen — who caught the best for one hit and struck out eight over seven innings on Sunday — and Zack Evelyn were great, too.

The Rays have had some really good rotations, chief among them being the 2012 group chief. However, last week in DC, Cash didn’t want his group of 23 to be ranked as the best of all time.

On your paper, yes (you can say that), he said with a laugh. “I can’t let you pin me for it, I’m going to get (former Rays writer and Cy Young winner) Blake Snell calling out, yelling at me if I do that.”

Glover moved the gold?

How often does a player earn a Gold Glove, stay with the same team and then not return to that position? More often than you think. Baltimore’s Ramon Urillas, who will be playing second base this season with the arrival of prospect Gunnar Henderson, could find another example literally across the field.

The Yankees’ Isiah Kiner-Falefa won a Gold Glove at third base with the Rangers in 2020 and switched to a utility ground role the following season. Kiner-Falefa made another location change this year, to center field. Uriahs, who started his second game at second base Sunday, has had five games at third base as he won the MLS Golden Glove.

“He’s definitely a really good third baseman, but I really think he’s probably one of the best outfielders in the elite league, but I think he’s probably one of the best outfielders in the league,” Kenner Valeva said of Urias.

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“It’s difficult because you want to defend him, but at the same time, it’s more of an honour, it means being in the middle more. I think the best players are in the middle. The corner guys, they’re really good, don’t get me wrong, but I feel like if I win one In third place, it would be even more amazing if you could move into the middle and try to win one or come close to winning.”

Transferring a Golden Glove player is not uncommon. A recent example is Detroit’s Placido Polanco, who won two Gold Glove Awards at second base and was moved to third base after second base in 2009. He won a Gold Glove at third base in 2011. Bucky Reese of Cincinnati won the award as second base starting man in consecutive years (1999 and 2000) and then played more games the following season. Texans’ Michael Young won a Gold Glove in 2008 as shortstop and moved to third base the following season. (Tip of the hat to the Elias Sports Bureau for research).

In addition to his 98 games at third base, Urías played 21 games at second base and 8 last season. He was targeted to be the Orioles’ starting second baseman until the club signed Adam Frazier this winter. So Urías could be more of a utility worker who, starting in 2022, is now his Gold Glove class, which Kiner-Falefa said could make men more receptive to the role.

Henderson, the youngest player in the American League, will also see some time in designated hitting, which he did in Friday’s opener. Orias, who had an RBI double in the seventh inning of that game, made a crucial double play in the third with a tying prospect and pointing forward on base for the Yankees in the eighth. Uriahs said after the Orioles’ 7-6 victory that what he was most proud of was being on the field.

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If playing time is any indication, Orioles manager Brandon Hyde clearly appreciates the Uriahs defense. And having too many good fielders isn’t a bad thing, especially with the new rules prohibiting turning the field.

“You’re not going to be able to hide men at second base anymore,” said Kiner-Falefa. “(You’re) going to pretty much need shortstops playing in the middle. Range is going to be key to getting players moving. I think it’s going to be very useful to defensive players unchanged because you need players to catch those balls.”

Of note…

• Mariners’ Jared Kilinich’s third-inning single on Saturday was 108 mph, the hardest hit ball of the game and Kilinich’s hardest hit ball of the season. He ranks 93 percent in hard-hit balls entering Sunday, at 60 percent. Perhaps most important for the 23-year-old Kilinick was going 3-for-4 in the Mariners’ 3-2 win over the Guardians. A former major leaguer, Kielinick didn’t have a single three-hit game in 54 games last year and whether he can recover this season could have a big impact on the AL West run.

• Free kick quarterback Dallas Keuchel, who played for the Rangers last season, continued to throw the ball at his home offseason in Arizona with a fastball that clocked between 88-91 miles per hour. The 35-year-old veteran left winger has had interest from several clubs, but is still unsigned.

• Is it a coincidence that some of the younger teams in baseball—the Orioles, Guardians, and Diamondbacks—are three of the top four clubs in stolen bases? maybe. But many people in the game believe that the younger rosters will have two important advantages under the new rules for 2023: familiarity with all the changes (which have already been implemented in the minor leagues) and new young legs.

Chris Kirshner contributed to this report.

(Wander Franco top photo: Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)

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