The Rays enter September today having met their primary goal, for the sixth straight season, of playing meaningful games over the final month of the season. Now the onus is on them to make it a September to remember. The five AL playoff teams — three division winners and the two wild cards that meet in a one-game play-in — will come, in some combination, from this group of nine teams. As of now the Rays are battling on two fronts: trying to run down the Red Sox for the AL East title and to beat out the A's, Orioles, Indians, Yankees and Royals for the wild-card spots. But that can change if the other division races tighten up, and suddenly they could be competing with the Rangers or Tigers. So here's a look at the nine-team AL playoff field, how they're doing, what their schedules look like, their chances* to make the playoffs and how we rank them as of now (all records through Friday):
1. Tigers (79-56)
What's happening: Best overall collection of talent on the mound and field, but there has to be some concern over Miguel Cabrera's health, Justin Verlander's lack of dominance and the back end of the bullpen.
What's left: 26 games, 11 at home, 10 vs. contenders. After three at Boston starting Monday, they play last 22 vs. noncontenders and Royals.
2. Rangers (78-56)
What's happening: Have been rolling, winning 22 of 29 through Friday, riding a strong rotation (including former Ray Matt Garza) and a lock-down bullpen, and not — yet, anyway — missing suspended slugger Nelson Cruz much.
What's left: 27 games, 14 at home, 16 vs. contenders. Arguably toughest remaining schedule, with six vs. A's, four at Rays, three with NL's Pirates.
3. Red Sox (80-56)
What's happening: AL's most productive offense and strong team chemistry can take them far, but holes in rotation — pending the return of Clay Buchholz — and a suspect bullpen led by Koji Uehara could be haunting.
What's left: 25 games — 13 at home, 19 vs. contenders. Sox will have to earn it, with upcoming 16-game stretch of Tigers-Yankees-Rays-Yankees-O's.
4. A's (76-58)
What's happening: Have the usual relatively unknown though extremely successful pitching staff but didn't do anything to bolster offense that looks a little thin, with Yoenis Cespedes slumping and Josh Reddick hurt.
What's left: 27 games, 15 at home, seven vs. contenders. After Rays today, six games with Rangers are biggest challenge. Last 13 vs. Angels, Twins, Mariners.
5. Rays (75-58)
What's happening: Starting pitching and defense are going to have to carry them, as the bullpen remains shaky and the offense inconsistent, though August pickups David DeJesus and Delmon Young might help.
What's left: 28 games — 11 at home, 15 vs. contenders. After this West Coast trip, Rays play 14 of last 20 vs. Red Sox, Rangers, O's and Yankees.
6. Indians (71-63)
What's happening: Pitching, including revived former Ray Scott Kazmir, has kept them in the race under Terry Francona, but the offense doesn't look deep enough. The addition of Jason Kubel may help a bit.
What's left: 27 games, 15 at home, 10 vs. contenders. It looks pretty easy, but after facing O's this week don't play anyone they are chasing so tough to gain ground.
7. Yankees (71-63)
What's happening: They've finally gotten healthy and the offense — fueled by the unstoppable Alfonso Soriano — is showing signs of explosiveness, but it doesn't seem they have the starting pitching to stick around much longer.
What's left: 27 games — 14 at home, 15 vs. contenders. Fifteen games vs. Red Sox (seven), Rays, Orioles are challenging, 12 vs. last-place teams won't be.
8. Orioles (71-62)
How they're looking: Addition of Michael Morse makes imposing lineup even more so, and defense has been tidy, but they don't have the pitching — starting (4.67 ERA) or relieving (3.73, 22 blown saves) — to win.
What's left: 28 games — 14 at home, 18 vs. contenders. As if 15 games vs. Red Sox, Rays and Yankees weren't tough enough, they also have three at Indians.
9. Royals (69-65)
What's happening: Borderline if they are even contenders, but the Rays connections alone make them worth watching, and AL's best pitching staff makes them potentially dangerous if offense can get going.
What's left: 27 games, 13 at home, 15 vs. contenders. Six games with Tigers are essentially all must-wins, as are six with Indians, three with Rangers.
* Percentages based on BaseballProspectus.com computer simulations, through Friday
Sept. 2-4: Rangers at A's, Tigers at Red Sox, Orioles at Indians
Sept. 5-8: Red Sox at Yankees
Sept. 9-12: Yankees at Orioles
Sept. 10-12: Red Sox at RAYS
Sept. 13-15: Yankees at Red Sox, A's at Rangers
Sept. 16-19: Rangers at RAYS
Sept. 17-19: Orioles at Red Sox
Sept. 20-23: Orioles at RAYS
Sept. 24-26: RAYS at Yankees
Sept. 27-29: Red Sox at Orioles
A date to remember
How the Rays have stood starting September during their six-year run:
Sept. 1 Finish
W-L Pos-GB W-L Pos-GB
2008 84-51 1 +5.5 97-65 1 +2.5
2009 71-59 3 -11.5 84-78 3 -19
2010 81-51 2 -1 96-66 1 +1
2011 74-61 3 -9 91-71* 2 -6
2012 71-61 3 -4.5 90-72 3 -5
2013 75-58-x 2 -3.5 91-71# ? -??
* won AL wild-card; # projected; x-through Friday
The Rays have known there would be a day they would see David Price on the mound in another uniform, but who knew it would be a Vanderbilt football uniform? … The St. Petersburg election results seem good for the Rays, even though the Pier issue lingers, as both mayoral finalists have indicated a willingness to let them explore Tampa stadium options, and further talks should clarify those positions. … An ESPN the Magazine feature on pitching coach Jim Hickey dubs him, for some reason, The Hoss Whisperer. … Boston's Clay Buchholz is on track to come off the DL to face the Rays on Sept. 10. … Manager Joe Maddon said the team already has a theme planned for the Sept. 13-15 trip to Minnesota.
Got a minute? David DeJesus
Best meal you can make?
Grilled chicken, and some kind of pasta with it.
The Amazing Race this season, no plugging involved! (His wife, Kim, is one of the contestants.)
Singer/band you'd like to be on stage with?
Probably Lecrae (a Christian hip-hop artist, whose Tell The World is DeJesus' walkup song)
All-time favorite movie?
I have two — Major League (the first one) and 300.
I answered that when I was in Chicago and got in trouble, but I'll still go with (model) Adriana Lima.