There are only four more days left in the month of May, and there are only two teams in Major League Baseball with a winning percentage of .600 or better. The combined payroll for both these teams is $65M, which is less than half that of the NY Mets (currently with a .469 winning percentage and 6.5 games back in their division) and less than one-third the payroll of the NY Yankees (currently with a .490 winning percentage and 6 games back in their division).
The two teams that sit atop their respective divisions and all of MLB in general are the Tampa Bay Rays and the Florida Marlins.
Go ahead. Rub your eyes and double check what you just read. Yes, on this day following Memorial Day weekend, the two best teams in baseball are those from the state that historically was known only for baseball in March not May.
Although it’s still too early to crown either of these teams – the Marlins’ lead in the NL East is only two and a half games while the Rays lead the defending World Series champion Red Sox by only one-half game in the AL East – it’s never too early to join in the excitement of summer baseball that matters in the state of Florida.
Having been born and raised in Miami and now residing in Tampa, this is doubly-exciting for me. Specifically for the Rays, a team that did not exist when I moved to the Bay area in 1996, it’s great to see them playing so well in the most expensive division in the majors ($.5 Billion in payroll this year) if not the most talented. Accounting for only $44 million of the half-billion dollar collective payroll, the Rays are getting it done with youth and great starting pitching. With every win comes additional confidence and belief the team can continue to play well and compete for the AL East title.
The Marlins, on the other hand, have been here before having won the World Series in 2003. However, the Marlins had to surge from 10 games below .500 prior to the All-Star game that year and get some luck along the way in order to qualify for the wild card and the playoffs. Their poor position in the standings in 2003 serves as a reminder that just because you’re on top in May or June does not mean that’s where you’ll finish at the end of September, and vice versa.
Nevertheless, the excitement for baseball in the state of Florida is tangible. With the recent championships won in this state slowly disappearing in the rear-view mirror (Bucs in 2002, Marlins in 2003, Lightning in 2004 and Heat in 2006), the idea of either the Rays or the Marlins playing in the Fall Classic brings a child-like smile to every baseball fan who calls Florida home. On this day following Memorial Day weekend, here’s hoping the standings look the same the day following Labor Day weekend as well.