The Tampa Bay Rays are the first team to start 9-0 in 20 years, as you have to look back to the 2003 Kansas City Royals, who established the high-water mark for the longest winning streak to begin a season in the Wild Card. That Royals team failed to make the playoffs and finished just four games over .500 on the year at 83-79, so let’s take a look and see how this Rays squad compares to that team.
The Royals were lead during the season-starting winning streak by Runelvys Hernandez, who made three starts during the streak, allowing just a single run in 2o innings of work, and earned the win in all three outings, including victories over both Chicago’s Mark Buehrle and Cleveland’s CC Sabathia.
“Runelvys got out to a great start,” Rays pitching coach Kyle Snyder, who made his big league debut with that Royals team in May, told me. “We got off to a hot start largely due to the pitching.”
Chris George also went 2-0 in the winning streak, including his own defeat of Sabathia.
Kansas City, much like the Rays, had what many believed to be an easy schedule to start the season, sweeping the White Sox, who finished the previous year .500 but would end up going 86-76 in 2003, in three straight before sweeping a pair of two-game series over Cleveland, who would lose 94 games that year, and Detroit, who would drop 119 contests.
But unlike the Rays, the Royals played in a number of close games. Their closer, Mike MacDougal, collected six of his 27 saves on the year during the streak. But the Tampa Bay top four in the starting rotation boasts a 0.98 earned run average the first two times through the rotation, with Shane McClanahan, Zach Eflin, Jeffrey Springs, and Drew Rasmussen each coming away with a pair of victories.
The 2003 Royals had their share of recognizable hitters to help support the pitchers as they racked up victories early.
“You had a good mix on the position player side,” Snyder said.
Kansas City would end up having two players repersent them in the All-Star Game that year, with Mike Sweeney (who also was the highest paid player on the team at $11 million), and Macdougal, plus a monster year from Carlos Beltran, who would be playing his final full season in a Royals uniform, clubbing 26 homers and driving in 100 runs. Kansas City’s hitters had a combined slash line of .278/.367/.430, with 18 doubles, eight home runs, and 42 RBI.
Tampa Bay’s hitters have of course surprised just about every national pundit this season, running with a slash line of .289/.379/.588 with 18 doubles, 24 homers, and 74 RBI. That’s allowed the Rays to jump out to a +57 run differential in their streak, while the Royals were only +25 over their stretch.