ANAHEIM, Calif. — With 70 games remaining after Saturday's 6-3 Alex Cobb-led victory over the Angels, the Rays, while holding the top American League wild-card spot and second place in the East, obviously haven't won anything yet.
But there is a strong feeling in the clubhouse they already have earned something significant — the right to stay together to try to do so.
A roster stacked with potential free agents and players in line for hefty raises seemed likely to position the Rays, with lesser success, for a major July 31 trade deadline auction.
Instead they now should be spending the next two weeks looking to buy — albeit modestly — to bolster their bullpen and deepen their bench rather than sell.
"Yeah, I would be very surprised (if they sold)," veteran third baseman Evan Longoria said. "It's not every year, it's not often, that you're sitting at the All-Star break and we're in a playoff spot. It's not like we're close to a playoff spot. We're in a playoff spot right now. Not the spot we would like to be in, but if it ended today, we're in the playoffs.
"So to even think about being a seller at the deadline, there would be some really upset guys in here. We came into spring training with the goal of playing in the postseason. Now we have a legitimate chance to do that. It's just time to kind of put the pieces together that we have here, maybe make an addition and see what happens."
General manager Erik Neander seems to be in agreement, saying Thursday they "cherish" the opportunity to contend for a playoff spot (which would be their first under current management) and want to "enhance" their chances, within reason. They showed that to a degree last month by trading for shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria to improve their defense and, with Colby Rasmus going home, would seem to have an unexpected $2.25 million to play with.
What if they have an extended losing streak between now and July 31 and drop back? And/or what if the Red Sox get red hot and push the division title out of reach, leaving the Rays playing for just a spot in the wild-card game? Could that change things? Would it?
Cobb, first baseman Logan Morrison and reliever Tommy Hunter are the most prominent pending free agents. All-Star DH Corey Dickerson, closer Alex Colome and outfielder Steven Souza Jr. are among those earning hefty raises, while others such as Brad Miller and Jake Odorizzi will get the standard arbitration-driven hikes anyway.
All-Star pitcher Chris Archer said it's up to the Rays to eliminate any possibility of a shift back to default sell-off mode.
"We try not to really think about it," Archer said. "As long as we win, they're not going to talk about it. It's died down tremendously. But we've got to come out in the second half and really ball out so it goes away completely."
So far so good, as they beat the Angels for a second straight night, improving to 49-43 in raising their glass ceiling to six games over .500 and moving with 2½ games of the division-leading Red Sox, the closest they've been this late in a season since August 2013.
Cobb led the way with another solid outing, allowing only six hits over 72/3 innings while battling from behind much of the night, improving to 8-6 while lowering his ERA to 3.59.
Jesus Sucre knocked in runs with a groundout and a single, and Morrison two more with his 25th homer, third most in the AL. Souza later added his career-high 18th homer, Dickerson had four hits and Shane Peterson three. The defense made plays all over the field. Brad Boxberger got a huge out to end the eighth. The only true blemish was reliever Jumbo Diaz giving up a two-run homer in the ninth.
As much as it was a team effort win, manager Kevin Cash said, "The story is still the way Alex Cobb threw the ball.''
Not only do these Rays feel they have a chance to win, but they seem to like playing together — which is another reason not to mess with the mix.
"Even without Colby, we've got characters in here, and you need that," Longoria said. "There's some personalities, but there's no egos. I think one of the most important things in having a winning team, a championship-caliber team is being able to put yourself second and the team ahead of that. That's definitely one of the things I like and I see in this group is the unselfishness."
Cash said that should serve them well over the inevitable turbulence they will face the final 2½ months.
"This clubhouse for the most part is a pretty loose atmosphere," he said. "The guys genuinely enjoy being around each other and when you have that type of chemistry throughout a clubhouse, some of those tough times are a little easier to handle."
Archer said there is enough talent in the room to not only make the playoffs but to win the division.
"We fully believe that we are the best team in the American League East," he said. "Just give us some more time."
Longoria, the sole remaining player from the 2008 and 2010 division championship teams, said they are positioned well.
"I like where we're at," he said. "I like the mix. We're flying under the radar a little bit, which is great, too. The years that we've had some good success that's kind of been the M.O. The other teams in the division are getting a lot of hype, and rightfully so. The Yankees and Red Sox are playing well, but we feel that we're right there. We're aligned to be a competitive team all the way until the end.''
They've got 70 games left to show it.