The Rays’ chances of repeating as American League champions likely depended on the health of Tyler Glasnow’s arm, thus making Tuesday’s news potentially devastating for Tampa Bay.
The Rays ace has a partial UCL tear as well as a flexor strain in his right throwing arm, an MRI revealed Tuesday, per multiple reports. For now, the hard-throwing right-hander has been shut down, but as is the case with any UCL injury, Tommy John surgery has to be on the table.
Glasnow was looking like a legitimate AL Cy Young Award contender, as Tampa Bay once again (and improbably) looks like one of baseball’s best teams. After leaving his Monday start early with dreaded forearm tightness, Glasnow is 5-2 with a 2.66 ERA while striking out 123 batters over just 88 innings of work.
It’s a massive blow for a Rays team that everyone would say has drastically overachieved if it weren’t for the Rays drastically overachieving every year. The 27-year-old has been downright dominant in pockets of his career, most notably a 2019 stretch when he posted a ridiculous 245 ERA+ (100 is league average) over 12 starts while averaging a hair over 11 punchouts per nine innings. At times, though, Glasnow has struggled with consistency, especially in the playoffs. However, this was looking like one of the best seasons of his young career.
Now, the Rays face the unfortunate task of trying to contend in one of baseball’s toughest divisions without their best player. Ryan Yarbrough has been a very nice second starter behind Glasnow, but he surely can’t be relied upon to fill Glasnow’s shoes. Nor can 41-year-old Rich Hill, who has been great with Tampa, but the age and injury history make you wonder whether he can sustain a 1.02 WHIP for an entire 162-game season. Then again, it’s foolish to completely discount the Rays no matter the situation, which defies all logic, but that’s how good they have been even while being unable (or unwilling) to commit the same amount of resources as their biggest competitors.
Speaking of the competition, this just opened up the AL East even wider. The Red Sox trail Tampa Bay for first place in the division by just three games with a three-game set at Tropicana Field starting next Tuesday. If Glasnow is down for an extended period of time, which certainly feels like the most likely scenario, it removes arguably Tampa Bay’s biggest advantage over the Red Sox or really the rest of the AL East. The only other pitcher who can come close to claiming the top spot in the division is the Yankees’ Gerrit Cole, and he has his own problems to worry about.
For teams like the Red Sox and the Blue Jays, who rely mainly on offense to win games, this goes a long way in leveling the playing field. As of Tuesday afternoon, both FanDuel and DraftKings Sportsbooks still have the Rays as favorites to win the division. FanDuel has Tampa at even money, and DraftKings puts the Rays at +115. The Yankees, for whatever reason, remain the second favorites at +330 and +275, respectively.
But maybe that speaks to the wide-open nature of the division. The Red Sox, assuming their recent funk is just that, probably should be the favorites over a Glasnow-less Rays team. But if the Yankees can get their offense — which currently ranks 26th in runs per game — straightened out, they can get right back in things. Once again, with Vladimir Guerrero Jr. looking like the MVP in the middle of a deep Blue Jays lineup, don’t be surprised if Toronto treats AL East pitching like a piñata for a good chunk of the regular season.
Hopefully, for the sake of Glasnow and the Rays, this is something that does heal with time and rest. Even if it doesn’t, and the worst-case scenario is realized, good luck betting against a Rays team no one believes in.
Regardless, though, this division race just opened up even more.