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Rays aim to finish strong

Tampa Bay Rays center fielder Kevin Kiermaier (39) catches a fly ball by Minnesota Twins second baseman Brian Dozier (2) to end the top of the eighth inning of the game between the Minnesota Twins and the Tampa Bay Rays in Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Wednesday, August 26, 2015. WILL VRAGOVIC   |   Times
Tampa Bay Rays center fielder Kevin Kiermaier (39) catches a fly ball by Minnesota Twins second baseman Brian Dozier (2) to end the top of the eighth inning of the game between the Minnesota Twins and the Tampa Bay Rays in Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Wednesday, August 26, 2015. WILL VRAGOVIC | Times
Published Sep. 6, 2015

As the Rays head into the final chapter of a season that ends four weeks from today, the biggest thing they are playing for is obviously a playoff berth, though the best they could do even then would be the second wild card, meaning their reward would be going on the road for a potential one-and-done. The odds of that aren't particularly good, anyway, as the Rays went into play Saturday 4½ games and three teams back. Baseball Prospectus' computer simulations give them just a 7.1 percent chance to make it (down from 25 percent two weeks ago), fangraphs.com's even less at 5.0. So, as they head into the final 27 games of the season, here are some other things they are playing for:

Awards

• CF Kevin Kiermaier (right) has by far the best chance of any Ray to win one of the major postseason awards, assuming the coaches and managers who vote on the Gold Glove are actually watching the games (and highlights) and not just going by name recognition or, worse, overall — i.e., offensive — performance. Plus there is a sabermetric component that accounts for about 25 percent of the voting total, and Kiermaier, through the latest mid August update, had a more than two-to-one lead over other centerfielders, including two-time defending winner Adam Jones. Rays manager Kevin Cash regularly touts Kiermaier as the best centerfielder in the game, saying "he wows us every night." Kiermaier, who was a surprise finalist last year as a rightfielder, makes no secret of his desire to win what would be the Rays' sixth Gold Glove: "It'd mean the world to me."

SABR Defensive Index for centerfielders

(Accounts for 25 percent of Gold Glove voting)

Kevin Kiermaier, Rays 21.8

Kevin Pillar, Jays 9.0

Leonys Martin, Rangers 8.8

Lorenzo Cain, Royals 8.6

Mike Trout, Angels 6.8

Adam Jones, Orioles 4.6

• RHP Chris Archer (left) is (almost certainly) not going to win the AL Cy Young Award, but he (almost certainly) will get some votes. At the least, Archer has pitched himself into the conversation and top-five consideration, although he doesn't quite have the overall portfolio to match up with the other top candidates. Interesting to note how much impact the two "bad" starts Archer had out of his 28 impacted his ERA — take out the 16 earned runs and 11 1/3 innings against the Royals and Tigers and he is down to 2.12. Or just take out his two bad innings and he would be at 2.35. Here is a look:

Pitcher, team W-L ERA WHIP* Avg. IP K BB WAR+

LH Dallas Keuchel, Astros 16-6 2.24 1.00 .213 192.2 173 42 6.9

RH Sonny Gray, A's 12-7 2.36 1.00 .206 186.2 152 47 6.0

LH David Price, Jays 14-5 2.43 1.07 .231 196.1 196 41 5.4

RH Chris Archer, Rays 12-10 2.78 1.04 .211 181 223 46 4.3

LH Chris Sale, WSox 12-7 3.29 1.04 .223 177.2 239 36 3.4

* Walks and hits per inning pitched; + Wins above replacement level

• If — and that's a huge if — the Rays do make the playoffs, Kevin Cash could get some manager of the year votes. Consider that it's his first job managing at any level, he replaced Joe Maddon, he dealt with a crippling number of injuries and he was on the front line of implementing a different pitcher usage philosophy. That said, he'd have done quite well if they made the playoffs.

> .500

Even if the Rays don't make the playoffs, there should be some pride, given the departures of executive VP Andrew Friedman and manager Joe Maddon, in finishing above .500 thus avoiding a second straight losing season.

Milestones

• RHP Chris Archer, with 223 strikeouts and probably five more starts, has a good shot at LHP Scott Kazmir's team record of 239 set in 2007.

• 1B James Loney is one shy of his 100th career homer and seven runs from 500, SS Asdrubal Cabrera three homers from 100 and six RBIs from 500.

• Though the games that get away get more attention, RHP Brad Boxberger leads the AL with 34 saves, with a chance to be the first Ray to finish on top since Rafael Soriano in 2010 with 45.

• The bullpen has tied the team record of 52 saves set in 2008.

• The 51 players used is one short of the team record set in 2000.

Jobs

On the surface — where, it must be noted, the Rays don't typically operate — there don't seem to be too many open jobs for next season. SS Asdrubal Cabrera and DH John Jaso are the primary free agents, and there is at least some uncertainty, albeit several options, at the catcher position. The rotation looks overstocked, especially with the addition of LHP prospect Blake Snell, which makes a trade of a starter seem likely. And the bullpen, as usual, will have plenty of candidates and be a work in progress. So with all that said, and all that may change during the offseason, here are a few players who can use September to further their job prospects for 2016:

• RHP Alex Colome: The move to the back end of the bullpen has gone well so far, and if Colome can continue to show he can handle high-leverage moments, he can position himself as a key addition to the duo of RHP Brad Boxberger and LHP Jake McGee, or an option if the Rays trade one.

• INF Tim Beckham: With Cabrera likely to get a multiyear deal elsewhere, Beckham, in whatever chances he does get, has a head start in what could be an open competition come spring training.

• LHP Matt Moore: A complete return to form after Tommy John surgery can take a while, but Moore, who started Saturday, needs to show enough to be considered one of the top five starters.

• C Curt Casali: The starting job is probably his for the taking based on his solid month, but a strong return from a hamstring strain would further his cause.

• DH John Jaso: A free agent after the season, he could make a pitch to be re-signed with a hot final month.

Short stops

• The biggest downside in calling up prospect Blake Snell — who has a good chance to be named minor-league player of the year — is making him eligible for free agency one year sooner, which is disappointing but probably a good enough reason not to.

• RHP Chris Archer's desire to be involved in growing the game continues to grow. He met with MLB officials in New York about extending his relationship with and becoming the face of the Reviving Baseball in the Inner Cities program, discussed a couple of international trips to cultivate interest in baseball and has been asked, if the Rays aren't playing, about doing some postseason TV work.

• The legend of Kevin Kiermaier continues to grow. The odd play at the Trop last week when Kiermaier climbed the centerfield wall then used his leg to hang on as the ball hit a catwalk earned him not only the ESPN Not Top 10 play of the week but also a tweet from the famous Rockettes dance troupe: "A job well done on that high kick, @KKiermaier39! You make us and @RaysBaseball proud!"

Rays rumblings

The uncertainty over OF Desmond Jennings' health makes it hard for the Rays to count on him for 2016 but even harder to trade him. … Royals bench coach Don Wakamatsu was disappointed to finish second to Kevin Cash for the Rays manager's job, but he said at the Trop last week, "Kevin's a friend of mine, and I think they made the right choice. Especially for where they're at and what they want to do." … Blue Jays officials are talking about making the Rogers Centre more like the Trop by switching to a dirt infield within the AstroTurf field. … A quote from Rays 3B Evan Longoria on Kevin Kiermaier shows how the game has evolved: "We were just talking about it in the cage, his defensive WAR is way higher than anybody else." … Sun Sports is having Todd Kalas skip three more games this week — maybe they're trying to keep him fresh for the postseason? … Congrats to Jonny Gomes, one of a lot of people's favorite former Rays, for getting traded to the Royals and being headed to the postseason for the sixth time in eight years.