Debate the Rays' quality with Jayson Stark

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Welcome to The Show! On Monday, ESPN.com senior MLB writer Jayson Stark will drop by at 1 p.m. ET for another installment of "That's Debatable," a weekly feature in which we break down a hot topic you have suggested. Let's hand it over to Jayson!

Our That's Debatable mailbox was flooded with questions about those rampaging Tampa Bay Rays this week. But no one dared ask the question that most needs answering:

Are the Rays really the best team in baseball as we find ourselves just hours away from (gulp) July?

Well, they just might be. So let's discuss:

THE CASE FOR

There comes a point in every season where you are what your record says you are. When a team has the best record in the entire flipping sport halfway through the season, that point has officially arrived.

Anyone who thinks this outfit isn't for real needs some serious reprogramming. The Rays have the best record in baseball since April 22 (41-21). They're No. 1 in the sport in Baseball Prospectus' Defensive Efficiency rankings. Opponents are hitting .211 against their bullpen -- which is the third-lowest average against any bullpen in the past half-century. And offensively, this team has gone from one of the least-disciplined lineups in baseball to one of the most. In case you hadn't noticed, Rays hitters have walked more times (300) than the Yankees (278), among other teams.

THE CASE AGAINST

Obviously, there are arguments to be made for a bunch of other teams. The Cubs have the best run differential in baseball (plus-94). The White Sox have the best run differential in the American League (plus-85) and lead the nation in ERA (3.39).

The Red Sox are the defending champs--and they're second in the major league in OPS and extra-base hits, even without David Ortiz. And the Angels are 31-14 against teams with winning records, and 27-15 on the road -- two stats that tell you a lot about a team.

THE VERDICT

OK, here's an argument you can't use: How can they be the best team in baseball if they're the Rays?

Sorry. That one doesn't work anymore. This team wins at home (26-6 at the Trop since April 22) and on the road (where, at 19-19, it's one of only four AL teams playing .500 or better away from home).

And it isn't like these guys just beat up on the dregs of the MLB earth. They're the only team in baseball that has swept the Angels, Red Sox, Cubs and Marlins. And they're 40-26 against teams currently over .500.

So there. I'm going to say it. This is the best team in baseball--right now, anyway. Care to disagree? That's what we're here for.


Every week, we'll give you the topic and then we'll have one of our writers stopping by to debate the issue with you. To suggest a topic for "That's Debatable," go here. Or check out the full archive.

Stark Archive: Chats | Columns

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