Rays season turning into good one

Jake Bauers gets a joyous greet at home plate after his 12th-inning home run beats the Yankees for a  sweep. (MONICA HERNDON | Times)
Jake Bauers gets a joyous greet at home plate after his 12th-inning home run beats the Yankees for a sweep. (MONICA HERNDON | Times)
Published June 24, 2018|Updated June 25, 2018

ST. PETERSBURG — The Tampa Bay Rays are not the best team in baseball. They are not going to win the World Series this year. Heck, they probably won't even make the playoffs.

But I tell you what. This team is a heck of a lot of fun to watch.

And it's way better than most of us thought it would be.

Let's go a little further than that. This team, dare we say, is turning into a nice little ballclub.

Rays fans should be absolutely thrilled with what they're seeing, and they should be excited about all that's in store. The future looks bright.

But you know, the present isn't too shabby, either.

What a weekend at the Trop. The Rays swept the big, bad Yankees. The series was capped Sunday with a dramatic walkoff homer in the 12th inning by 22-year-old Jake Bauers.

"Unreal,'' Bauers said.

It was the kid's first walkoff. It's not going to be his last. The kid looks like a young Redford and swings like Roy Hobbs. I half expected to hear the music from The Natural as he circled the bases Sunday.

"Pretty special weekend,'' Rays manager Kevin Cash said.

Things have looked kind of special for a while now. The Rays have won five out of seven against the Yankees and Astros, two of the top teams in baseball. They have gone 36-32 after starting the season 1-8.

How in the world are they doing this?

They spend no money. They traded their best players in the offseason. (Remember all the white flags fans put up after that?) They have more starting pitchers on the disabled list than in the rotation. Most of their games, they start relievers. Their lineup is a mixture of young prospects and cheap veterans.

Yet, whatever it is, it's working.

RELATED: The entire Rays bullpen saved this game.

"They're having fun,'' Cash said after Sunday's sweep. "And guys are buying in. There are a lot of teams that would not be able to do this because you wouldn't get the buy in. You can say it's because of youth, but there are also some veteran guys who are willing to do anything.''

Take, for example, a guy like veteran pitcher Sergio Romo. He will start a game if you need him. He'll come in in the sixth. He'll close a game if you need a closer that day. Whatever you want. That pretty much sums up the whole staff.

But here's the thing. The Rays aren't putting this all together with fishing line and duct tape, smoke and mirrors. This is legitimate.

Matt Duffy is hitting .318. Kevin Kiermaier brings energy and one of the best gloves in the game. C.J. Cron brings power. Wilson Ramos swings a professional bat. Carlos Gomez brings passion and timely hits. Mallex Smith makes things happen on offense. Everybody plays good defense.

Then there are the kids: Bauers and Willy Adames. They look poised at the plate. They look confident in the field. They carry themselves like veterans. You can already see they are going to be terrific major-leaguers. They already look like they belong.

"They do,'' Cash said. "And they get excited the right way. They're embracing the hype. They're not overdoing anything. They're not putting too much pressure on themselves.''

RELATED: Ryan Yarbrough was supposed to throw Sunday only if there was an emergency. There was an emergency.

Look, who knows if this will last? Maybe these pitchers will run out of gas once the innings start piling up. Even Cash didn't expect it to work out this well.

"Not to this extent,'' Cash said. "But these bullpen days and all that has worked out really well.''

Certainly, Bauers and Adames will have growing pains. Maybe Duffy and Ramos will cool off. Let's see if Kiermaier can stay healthy.

And it's only fair to point out that the Rays have feasted on bad teams and struggled against good ones. Right now the Rays are the midst of a grueling stretch. The Nationals are here for two games, then the Astros for four.

"We looked at this part of the schedule and we knew it was going to be challenging,'' Cash said. "We didn't know who was going to be here at this time, whether it was going to be a bunch of young guys or not, but the guys have really embraced it.''

So should the fans. This team is fun. This team is good.

And the games — most of them, anyway — are entertaining.

What else could you ask for?