The Tampa Bay Rays are the toughest team the New York Mets have on their 2020 schedule.
The 2020 season will create a unique opportunity for New York Mets fans to enjoy a healthy, consistent dose of NL East competition. It will also present the opportunity for them to see the AL East teams over the course of what promises to be an absolutely punishing schedule.
Part of the punishment will come in the form of a three-game series with the Tampa Bay Rays from September 21st-23rd. The Rays finished the 2019 season with the quietest 96-66 record ever recorded. They were eventually knocked out of the postseason by the Houston Astros in five games in the ALDS.
There has been plenty of conversation about how the New York Yankees, especially after the signing of Gerrit Cole, will be the talk of the AL East. Yet, it is the Rays that will prove to be the most difficult for the Mets to handle.
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At first glance, the Rays don’t seem like much of a threat because of their lack of a marquee player. However, what the Rays may lack in the form of a marquee player they certainly make up for in playing fundamentally sound baseball.
Kevin Kiermaier has been known for his highlight-reel plays in centerfield, and his three Gold Gloves certainly exemplifies that. Outside of Kiermaier, the rest of the team is solid defensively. Last season, the Rays averaged .54 errors per game, which was good enough for ninth in the MLB.
Led by Charlie Morton and pioneering the “Opener” technique, the Rays paired their exceptional fielding with dominant pitching. As a team, the staff featuring Morton, Yonny Chirinos, Blake Snell, Tyler Glasnow, and Ryne Stanek dominated opposing lineups with a combined ERA of 3.27.
Not only should that low ERA concern Mets batters, but also the fact that the Rays only allowed 1.10 home runs per game last season, which was the best mark across MLB. The Mets ranked 11th last season in team home runs, and it was a vital part of their offense. With Yoenis Cespedes returning to the lineup, the home run should figure to be an even bigger part of the offense, meaning pitching staffs like the Rays will give them fits.
Switching gears to the offense, the Rays have a propensity to steal bases. They finished last season eighth in the MLB in stolen bases. This will make Mets pitchers sweat, as last season they allowed an 86.3% stolen base percentage to opponents, last in the MLB. That number might be different come this season due to the absence of Noah Syndergaard, but it is still something that needs to be worked on.
A unique advantage that the Rays hold coming into this season is that they are used to playing in stadiums that have a vacant feeling to them. Despite the Rays finishing 30 games over the .500 mark, they ranked dead last in attendance in the American League last season. This has nothing to do with the team, and everything to do with the decrepit conditions of Tropicana Field.
Although it is only three games against the Rays, they are extremely important due to the fact that it is only a 60-game season. One three-game skid could send the season in a southward direction very quickly. In that same stretch when the Mets are playing the Rays, the Atlanta Braves (who many expect to win the NL East) will be playing the lowly Miami Marlins. Towards the end of the season, a three-game swing could seriously alter the playoff picture.
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It is no secret that the NL East and AL East teams will beat up on each other in this short season. While many expect the Yankees or Braves to be the toughest opponent this season, don’t be surprised if it is the Rays who give the Mets the hardest time.