Tampa Bay took some heat from baseball traditionalists when the team instituted its "opener" strategy, but since May 19, when 35-year-old reliever Sergio Romo made his first career start, the Rays have the best ERA in baseball.
The Rays staff has a 2.87 ERA since then, better than the second-place New York Yankees at 2.96.
The Rays started using "openers" that weekend, starting a reliever who would then cede to a traditional starter in the second or third inning. Rays manager Kevin Cash explained that the move allowed a reliever to get the first shot at a lineup's heavy hitters, giving the would-be starters an advantage on their second and third times through the lineup.
When Romo made that first start, the Rays had a 4.45 ERA, eighth worst in baseball.
The Rays' starters ERA since then is 3.20, best in the majors, led by their new ace, Blake Snell. The Rays don't employ "openers" when Snell starts. The left-hander is probably the biggest contributor to the improved ERA. Since May 19, he has an ERA of 1.27. He is the horse on the staff, racking up over 100 innings.
The relievers' ERA since May 19 is 2.62, fourth-best in baseball.
The addition of some new faces on the mound has helped, too.
Veteran Wilmer Font, who came over from the Oakland Athletics on May 25, has a 1.64 ERA since joining the team. Font started the season with the Los Angeles Dodgers, allowing 13 runs and 18 hits in 10 1/3 innings for an 11.32 ERA. He was traded on April 25 to Oakland, where he had a 14.85 ERA in 6 2/3 innings before joining the Rays. Font was named to the starting rotation on Tuesday.
But what really counts is whether the Rays are winning games with the strategy.
On May 19, the Rays were 21-22. Since then, they have gone 18-18.