Earlier this season, everyone was surprised to see the Tampa Bay Rays taking a solid hold of second place in the AL East. Until recently, it even seemed they might’ve had a Wild Card spot locked down for the postseason too. Their latest performance, however, hasn’t been all that spectacular, with only four wins in the last ten games.
Last week, the Rays split a four-game series against the lowly Baltimore Orioles, which is not great for their division rankings, particularly when the Red Sox are still in the hunt. Tampa Bay is now only four games ahead of Boston and could very well let their Wild Card chances slip away if they aren’t careful. Keep in mind that the Cleveland Indians are currently in the running to take the first Wild Card berth and the Oakland A’s are doing everything in their power to snag the second one. The American League race is tight. It’s going to be a sprint to the finish line for these three teams, but if Tampa Bay can do it, this will the the Rays’ first appearance in the postseason in six years. Here are the challenges that the Tampa Bay Rays face as they head towards a potential postseason.
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The Rays’ Recent Struggles
We all knew that the Rays’ latest four-game series against the Houston Astros would be tough, but with their recent freefall, it seems to be adding insult to injury. Tampa Bay blew two leads on Wednesday and suffered an embarrassing blowout loss on Tuesday which resulted in a final score of 15-1. If they can’t get their confidence up and learn to maintain a lead against teams like the Astros and the Yankees, even if the Rays manage to make the postseason, it’ll be a pretty short-lived affair.
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More bad news? Rays All Star second baseman Brandon Lowe is likely out for the rest of the season with a quad injury. Lowe had 16 home runs and 49 RBI on the season so far, so the loss is considerable. Earlier this season, he was a frontrunner for AL Rookie of the Year and batted all across the Rays lineup with a lot of success. The worst part about this loss is that the Rays already rank in the bottom half of the MLB in runs scored, so this likely won’t help matters offensively. Tampa Bay will play Eric Sogard in his place.
The Rays have already struggled with other injuries like the loss of third baseman Yandy Diaz who is out for the rest of the season with a foot fracture. Another second baseman, Joey Wendle, is also on the injured list with right wrist inflammation, but he’ll hopefully return soon to help out Sogard.
Pitchers Tyler Glasnow and Blake Snell won’t be back until mid-September, but on the bright side, left-hander Ryan Yarbrough has done a pretty good job covering for them on the mound. Yarbrough has 23 strikeouts, no walks, and only one earned run in 19 innings; he’s 3-0 in his last three starts.
Another thing that could stifle the Rays’ postseason hopes? They’ve got a tougher remaining schedule than the A’s or the Indians, with 16 games against teams that are below .500 and 14 against teams above. The Rays will need to give it their all during this last month of regular season baseball if they want to edge out these two teams. At the moment, they are neck and neck with the A’s, with projections giving the Rays with a 59.7% chance of making the playoffs versus the A’s at 60.3% and the Indians at 76.1%.
The Ray just wrapped up their series against the Astros and they’ll face the Cleveland Indians in three games over the weekend at Tropicana Field (provided Hurricane Dorian steers clear of Florida). This is an important match-up between the two Wild Card contenders, and potentially the biggest series so far this season for the Rays. After that, Tampa Bay will take another stab at the Orioles next week before facing the Toronto Blue Jays. Every game is a basically must-win from here on out.
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