Coming into this season, critics and fans were well aware of the Tampa Bay Rays ability to score runs. With one of the best young lineups in baseball, the Rays were predicted to fight for the AL East crown with the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees.
Most people picked the Yankees and the Sox to finish ahead of the Rays because of one thing: starting pitching.
After a subpar year from both Matt Garza and James Shields in 2009, the Rays aces have gotten off to great year in 2010.
Lets take a closer look at James Shields, Matt Garza, and the rest of the Tampa Bay rotation.
After two great seasons in 2007 and 2008, James Shields was subpar last season. Going 11-12 with a 4.14 ERA, Shields couldn't find the consistency that has been key to this season's success.
After 10 starts and just under 70 innings pitched, Shields has posted a 5-2 record with a 2.99 ERA. He has 71 strikeouts while walking only 14 batters.
Shields' numbers don't jump out at you. However, his consistency makes him one of the best aces in the MLB.
The most runs he has given up this season is four, when Tampa Bay beat Boston 6-5 and Shields got the win.
Similar to Shields, Garza struggled last season after a great year in 2008. He went 8-12 with a 3.99 ERA and 189 strikeouts. The Tampa Bay Rays inconsistent hitting in 2009 may have made Garza look worse than he really was.
Either way, he has the stuff to win games. Unlike James Shields, Garza has more quality starts but has less consistency. In his last start, Garza gave up six runs on five hits and five walks against the Red Sox.
Outside of that bad outing, and another in late April, Garza has posted two runs or fewer in seven of his 10 starts this season.
While he enjoyed ridiculous run support in April, Garza has struggled to get wins in May, despite pitching well.
The only lefty on the staff and the youngest of the five, David Price could be called a phenom. The number one pick in the 2007 MLB draft has lived up to the hype this season.
In 128 innings of work last season, Price was 10-7 with a 4.42 ERA and 102 Ks. As the season went on, Price looked better and better as he found his spots.
This season, Price has been outstanding. His record sits at 7-2 (tied for most wins in the AL), giving up only three runs in each of his two losses. Price has managed to be much more consistent this season. His ERA sits at 2.57 (third in the AL) and his WHIP at 1.14.
Perhaps the only concern with Price is his inability to strike out batters frequently. He only has 50 Ks in 66.2 innings of work. However, many scouting and pitching experts would say we still haven't seen close to Price's best.
Jeff Niemann is the beast of the rotation. Standing at 6'9" and weighing in at 260 lbs, he is one of the biggest guys batters will face.
Niemann was a nice surprise for the Rays last season. He had an 13-6 record and kept his ERA just below 4.00. The Houston native has picked up where he left off, providing the same kind of consistency as James Shields.
Rays fans caught an early season scare when Niemann left his first start after just 1.1 innings pitched, due to an potential injury. Niemann stayed off the DL and made his next start, getting a no-decision against the Orioles. Niemann struggled to get wins through the month of April, but kept his ERA down.
In the month of May, Niemann has been just short of perfect. Winning 4 of his 5 starts, Niemann has been one of baseball's best this month. His ERA sits at 2.37 (second in the AL) with a 5-0 record. Niemann has not given up more than three runs in any of his starts this season. He has five wins and five no-decisions.
Niemann struggles in the same way David Price does. His lack of strikeouts (41 in 64.2 innings pitched) are a small concern as the season goes on. Hopefully he can keep it rolling.
Wade Davis is another prime prospect. After getting called up last year, the 24-year-old right hander was 2-2 with a 3.72 ERA in 36.1 innings of work.
Many experts picked Wade Davis as this years potential rookie of the year along with Baltimore's Brian Matusz.
So far this season, Davis has been a solid number five guy. He is 5-4 with a 4.04 ERA and 36 Ks in 55.2 innings of work. Obviously he doesn't provide the consistency and reliability that the other four starters do.
Davis is a work-in-progress.
He has had some fine outings and has only been limited to under five innings once.
Despite a great April, Davis has been on a bit of a cold streak in the month of May, swelling his ERA from 2.79 on May 2nd to today's 4.04. Hopefully Davis can find his rhythm and be this year's AL Rookie of the Year.