Underdog Rays hold off Yankees to win first AL East title since 2010

Mark Townsend
·Yahoo Sports Contributor
·2 min read

The Tampa Bay Rays have overcome the odds to win the American League East.

With Wednesday’s 8-5 win against the New York Mets, the Rays clinched their first division championship since 2010.

To win the AL East, the Rays withstood a late-season charge by the heavily favored New York Yankees. At 37-20, the Rays are now poised to clinch the best overall record in the American League.

It’s the latest chapter in the Rays’ story as baseball giant killers. Despite consistently operating with one of MLB’s lowest payrolls, they have found a winning formula that centers around scouting, development, pitching and playing fundamentally sound baseball. After finishing last place in each of their first 10 seasons, the Rays have used that formula to earn six postseason berths since 2008.

How the Rays won the AL East

This season hasn’t been easy for anyone given the circumstances, but the Rays have found a way to overcome every obstacle. That includes the New York Yankees.

After the Yankees signed Gerrit Cole to a record nine-year, $324 million contract, they were immediately viewed as favorites to not only win the AL East, but the AL pennant and World Series as well. The latter two can still happen, but the Rays have shown they’re every bit as capable of playing deep into October. In fact, the Rays dominated the season series against New York, winning eight of 10 games played.

The Rays’ success against New York is a big reason they’re celebrating a division title. Another is the continued excellence of their pitching staff. Tampa Bay’s staff ranks top five in MLB in ERA despite having to face five of MLB’s top 10 offenses this season. The pitchers have kept games competitive and allowed the Rays 20th ranked offense to win the close ones with timely hitting. This season, the Rays are 13-5 in one-run games.

Tampa Bay Rays clinch their first AL East title since 2010. (Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images)
Tampa Bay Rays clinch their first AL East title since 2010. (Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images)

Can the Rays win the World Series?

This Rays team isn’t perfect. The lineup can sometimes struggle to generate runs, which can be a problem in October. But the Rays should have the pitching depth to withstand what will be a fast-paced and compact postseason format. Most importantly, the Rays won’t beat themselves with fundamental miscues.

It’s possible this season and this format will present Tampa Bay with its best chance to win it all. As we’ve been reminded all throughout this unpredictable season, anything can happen.

More from Yahoo Sports: