The 2020 MLB season was one of the most interesting in league history. During some of the most unprecedented times in history, the league delayed the season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, starting in late July. Many changes were needed to complete the season, shortening the schedule to 60 games, keeping matchups regional, and not allowing fans into the stadiums to limit the spread of the virus and keep the players safe.
The 2019 Tampa Bay Rays were coming off a 96-win season and a five-game series loss to the Houston Astros in the ALDS. The highlights of the offseason were on the trade market. They made two separate deals with the Padres. First, they traded Tommy Pham and Jake Cronenworth for Hunter Renfroe and Xavier Edwards in December. Then, they traded Emilio Pagan for Manuel Margot and Logan Driscoll in February. Between those deals, they made an equally eye-opening move with the Cardinals. The Rays moved top pitching prospect Matthew Liberatore to St. Louis for Jose Martinez and Randy Arozarena.
The 2020 Regular Season
When the season finally kicked off near the end of July, the Rays started slow before picking up steam in early August. After a 6-8 start, they finished August by going 19-3 to sit atop the AL East by 4.5 games. Meanwhile, the Rays were quietly making small deals. The most consequential of these trades came on Aug/ 27, when they acquired outfield Brett Phillips from the Royals for prospect Lucius Fox. On Sept. 17, the Rays swept a doubleheader in Baltimore to clinch a playoff spot. Six days later, they captured the division crown with an 8-5 win over the Mets, their first AL East title since 2010. The Rays ended the season with a 40-20 record, the best in the AL and the second-best in the league.
The Rays rode their pitching staff to a strong regular season. Tampa Bay finished with the third-best team ERA (3.56) and led the league with 23 saves while also finishing in the Top 10 in strikeouts, WHIP, hits allowed, and several other categories. Offensively, the Rays' team numbers were average, but there were plenty of standouts. Brandon Lowe slugged a team-high 14 home runs and 37 RBI. Yandy Diaz hit .307. Mid-season call-up Randy Arozarena knocked seven home runs in 23 games, setting the stage for the postseason excellence we'd see over the next month.