ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays rolled to another victory Saturday over the Orioles, the 10-5 win their 15th in their last 18 games, as they moved to a season-high 13 games over .500 at 77-64.
Despite Oakland's stubbornness about losing keeping the gap for the final American League playoff spot at eight games with only 21 to play, at least some of the Rays still believe they can win enough over the final three weeks to turn this season into something wild.
"I think we can still make the playoffs,'' said top starter Blake Snell, who is certainly doing his part with a Cy Young worthy 18-5, 2.06 performance. "I know the chances are slim, but I don't care what the chances say. I think we can do it.''
Realistically, probably not.
But here's the thing — even if they don't win enough to make it this year, the experience of playing September games that mean something, and against contenders, will add to the carryover benefit for the young players that will be the core of next year's squad.
"With the team we have now and how good we're playing together, how well everyone one enjoys each other, it's just fun to come to the field. Everyone is happy to see each other and it's fun to play,'' Snell said.
"However we finish it's going to be good because I know it's going to catapult us into the off-season, get everybody's mind right to go win a World Series.''
Snell, as is wont, may be working ahead in that count. Just making the playoffs for the first time since 2013 would be a big enough accomplishment.
But there definitely should be some residual benefits, both tangible and in-, especially for the first-time big-leaguers heading into their sophomore seasons.
"Nobody thought we were going to winning a lot like this,'' shortstop Willy Adames said. "I think it's going to be good for next year because we want to bring that feeling, that atmosphere of winning every day.
"We've been beating good teams. We know we can compete. Even though we don't have a big name here, we can still compete with the (top) teams. We swept Boston, we won a series in Cleveland. That says something. That tells you something. That tells you that we've got good talent here. That we've got people to compete
"After this month or two we've been having, I think everybody has to feel like that for next year. If we make the playoffs this year, even better. If we would have had this team since the beginning of the season I think things would be different. … This is kind of a family, everybody is trying to help each other. It's a good group. We've got that chemistry now. It was being before. Hopefully we can bring that for next year. … Let's see how everybody gets to spring training. Hopefully everybody works their asses off in the off-season and they come really in shape to spring training.''
How they are doing it can also be paid forward, first baseman Jake Bauers said.
"Regardless of what happens at the end of this year, if you look at what we've done over the past two-three months ever since (Adames and I) got here, and it's been more about winning games than what we're doing individually. The best teams, that's what the culture is,'' he said.
"When you have a whole clubhouse that's bought into winning over everything else you see the difference, you see guys every night who are doing things — I don't want to say things they don't want to do — but things that benefit the team more than maybe them at that moment.
"And I think you see somebody doing that every given night. When you have a culture like that, it makes winning ballgames the No. 1 thing. And when you're winning it's like it's a contagious thing. It's a hell of a lot better than losing. When you have a clubhouse fill of guys who all they want to do is win I think that makes all the difference.''
When Adames and Bauers came up during the summer, Rays officials boasted of the inherent benefit they and some others had from playing, and winning, together rising through the minors. Bench coach Charlie Montoyo, a long-time minor-league manager, said there is definitely a trickle-up effect of the players learning winning.
The Rays believe that experience also will have an ongoing annual payoff.
"All we've ever done is won at every level,'' Bauers said. "So why is this any different, you know what I mean? The only thing that changes is that you know the names on the other team, that's it.
"You look at this group. We have a giant group of guys who could all be in this clubhouse next year, who all believe in each other and know that we can do it.''
This year, barring an unexpected collapse, will turn out pretty well for the Rays, currently paced for 88-89 wins. And that makes the potential for next year even better.
Contact Marc Topkin at [email protected] Follow @TBTimes_Rays.