Picking Up Red Hot Rays

Just three weeks ago, I wrote an article about the red-hot Blue Jays finally playing like the juggernaut most writers thought they would be at the beginning of the season. Well, the Jays have gone just 5-10 since then, but another team from the ultra-competitive AL East has supplanted them as the hottest team in baseball.

Since June 23, the Tampa Bay Rays are 22-4, including 20 wins in their last 22 contests. Those games have been won mainly with pitching; opponents have scored more than three runs off the Tampa staff just three times in their last 34 games!

This isn’t surprising. The Rays have traditionally won through pitching and defense. But what is surprising is that they put up those gaudy numbers on the mound while 2012 Cy Young-winner David Price has not been his usual dominant self.

The star of the Tampa staff over the last month has been not Price or All-Star Matt Moore, but Jeremy Hellickson, currently the owner of a 4.62 ERA for 2013. It’s rare for a fantasy writer to advocate picking up a pitcher with that high of an ERA, but that is exactly what I’m doing.

Hellickson really struggled through April and May, but of late has seemed to regain the form that made him the 2011 AL Rookie of the Year. Over his last nine starts, Hellickson has given up more than three earned runs just once and lowered his ERA nearly a full run over that time.

Some of Hellickson’s early-season struggles can be explained as the result of bad luck as well. His BABIP of .312 is 15 points above the league average and his FIP, a measure of what a pitcher’s ERA “should” be, is a solid 3.75. Factoring in his stellar 3.73 K/BB ratio, all signs point to the Rays’ righty getting better as the year goes on.

Close behind over the last month has been erstwhile Cubs farmhand Chris Archer. The Rays were high on Archer when they acquired him in the deal that sent Matt Garza to Chicago and the 24-year old rookie has delivered, especially lately.

Since his first big-league start of 2013 on June 1, Archer has compiled a tidy 2.96 ERA to go along with a 4-3 record. He has given up more than three earned runs just once and in his most recent start became the fourth rookie this season to pitch a shutout when he blanked the Astros.

Archer is currently owned in just 41.6 percent of ESPN leagues and I highly recommend adding him if he’s available. He hasn’t given up a run since July 4, currently boasting a streak of 16 consecutive scoreless innings.

Archer is a phenom, but he may only be the second best rookie in Tampa right now. No summary of the key players during the Rays’ hot streak would be complete without mentioning first-year outfielder Wil Myers.

Myers was the big prize for the Rays in the trade that sent James Shields to Kansas City. Since his major league debut on June 18, the rookie has raked to the tune of a .310/.336/.460 line with four bombs and 19 RBI in just 113 at-bats. He has provided the Rays with a shot in the arm, much like the one Yasiel Puig has given on the opposite coast.

Myers’ hot start likely won’t last. He is hitting and absurd .377 on balls in play and will likely experience the roller coaster that almost all rookies do as the season progresses. The Rays as a whole, on the other hand, show no signs of slowing down and will likely be in the thick of the AL East race for the duration of the season.

Dylan Sinn is a freelance contributor for CraveOnline Sports. You can follow him on Twitter @DylanSinn or subscribe at Facebook.com/CraveOnlineSports.

Photo Credit: (Hellickson) Getty