We all know what the Rays are primarily playing for in September — the chance to keep playing into October. To get past their scheduled Oct. 1 finale, they are going to have to battle to make up ground, knowing every remaining game is pretty much their biggest game of the year and the margin for error is small.
For veterans who have had the experience of playing in meaningful September games, the thrill of the chase can be exhilarating and motivating.
"It's a lot of fun," said veteran 3B Evan Longoria, the only remaining member from all four Rays playoff teams (2008, 2010, 2011, 2013). "It's been a couple years since we've been in that position, had a realistic shot, so hopefully that sparks us, that belief of the postseason and the energy it can create. Hopefully it brings out the best in everybody."
But for players who haven't been there, the pressures of a September race can be somewhat of a nerve-wracking and stressful time.
"I hate to say that you can look at somebody's performance in certain type of games and really get a judge of character or whatever it is, but it's true," RHP Alex Cobb said. "I've seen some teams really just collapse under the pressure."
DH/1B Lucas Duda, who got to experience September races with the Mets the past two years, said you come to appreciate how special the opportunity is. And the biggest key? "I think it's how you handle it," Duda said. "Everybody has their own pressures."
For C Wilson Ramos, part of several September runs with the Nationals, the key is not treating the big games any differently: "Just keep doing the same thing, keep playing, do the little things. I don't feel any pressure. I just look at it as going out there and doing my job."
The road to October?
After today, the Rays' final 24 games are against contending teams with winning records:
Monday-Wednesday: vs. Twins (3 games)
Friday-Sunday: at Red Sox (3)
Sept. 11-13: vs Yankees (3)
Sept. 15-17: vs. Red Sox (3)
Sept. 19-20: vs. Cubs (2)
Sept. 21-24: at Orioles (4)
Sept. 26-28: at Yankees (3)
Sept. 29-Oct. 1: vs. Orioles (3)
September can be a challenging month for players based on how they are feeling in terms of injuries and fatigue as well as circumstance, whether they are playing for something or just playing out the season. A look at what some Rays veterans have done in past Septembers (and regular-season October games), compared to their career numbers overall:
Hitters Sept. BA/OPS Overall
LF Corey Dickerson .287/.857 .281/.837
DH Lucas Duda .237/.788 .244/800
SS Adeiny Hechavarria .240/.587 .253/.628
CF Kevin Kiermaier .278/.779 .261/.748
3B Evan Longoria .275/.863 .270/.826
1B Logan Morrison .279/.894 .246/.763
2B Brad Miller .248/.732 .238/.722
C Wilson Ramos .255/.707 .266/.736
RF Steven Souza Jr. .280/.854 .239/.760
Starters Sept. ERA/WHIP Overall
Chris Archer 4.35/1.322 3.54/1.201
Alex Cobb 3.68/1.158 3.50/1.215
Jake Odorizzi 4.08/1.196 3.94/1.239
Relievers Sept. ERA/WHIP Overall
Brad Boxberger 4.50/1.240 3.39/1.259
Steve Cishek 2.06/1.186 2.73/1.169
Alex Colome 3.03/1.241 3.07/1.211
Tommy Hunter 3.92/1.325 4.14/1.253
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Dan Jennings 1.85/1.385 2.99/1.426
Sergio Romo 1.33/0.898 2.73/0.967
All stats through Friday
What else are they playing for?
Besides a playoff berth, here are some other September goals (all stats through Friday):
• 1B Logan Morrison has 34 homers; the only Ray to reach 40 was Carlos Peña, with a team-record 46 in 2007.
• With 41 saves, RHP Alex Colome has a shot at Fernando Rodney's team record of 48, set in 2012, and to be the first Ray to lead the majors in saves, currently five ahead of the Dodgers' Kenley Jansen and the Rockies' Greg Holland.
• With 193 homers, the Rays are on pace to easily break the team record of 216 (2016). Morrison, Steven Souza Jr. (29) and Corey Dickerson (25) could give the Rays their first trio of 30-plus guys in a season.
• With seven more steals, Souza will join B.J. (now Melvin) Upton as the only Rays with 20-homer, 20-steal seasons.
• RHP Steve Cishek (right) has made 16 consecutive scoreless appearances to start his Rays career, four shy of RHP Joe Borowski's 2005 mark.
• With 82 W's, the Rays would have their first winning record in three seasons under manager Kevin Cash.
Play for pay
For players headed to free agency, what they do over the final month of the season, and in the postseason if they get there, can have a big impact on how large a deal they get when they hit the open market. The Rays have a bunch, listed in rough order of who's positioned to get the biggest contracts:
1. RHP Alex Cobb
2. 1B/DH Logan Morrison
3. 1B/DH Lucas Duda
4. RHP Steve Cishek
5. RHP Tommy Hunter
6. RHP Sergio Romo
7. OF Peter Bourjos
They also have a number of players in arbitration who are playing for raises or whether they will be traded (or possibly nontendered), including: RHP Brad Boxberger, RHP Alex Colome, LF Corey Dickerson, SS Adeiny Hechavarria, LHP Dan Jennings, 2B Brad Miller, RHP Jake Odorizzi and OF Steven Souza Jr.
Some things we think we know
• It would take a bit of a hot streak, but that would be quite a scene — with all kinds of mixed emotions flying around the Trop — if the Cubs clinched a playoff berth during their Sept. 19-20 visit, with ex-Rays Joe Maddon (left), Dave Martinez, Ben Zobrist and Wade Davis celebrating on the Trop turf. … Similarly, what if the AL wild-card chase comes down to the final weekend, with the Orioles and Lord Baltimore Tim Beckham, plus ex-Ray Jeremy Hellickson, in town?
• The focus was on helping Houston, but Rays people — from the front office to the clubhouse and grounds crews — deserve credit for stepping up when MLB asked to prep and ready the Trop so the Astros could play three games there, calling upon staff that was otherwise scheduled off with their team on the road. … Also, props to the Rays for donating to domestic violence-affiliated charities the remaining $100,000 in pay forfeited by suspended former C Derek Norris. (Though since he hadn't played since his June release, was being suspended for the final month much of a punishment?)
Expect the 2018 schedule to be released this week, with the Rays opening at home vs. the Red Sox on March 29; hosting the NL Phillies, visiting the Mets and playing home and home with the Nationals, Braves, Marlins; and finishing at home vs. the Blue Jays on Sept. 30. … While on his four-day suspension at Triple-A Durham, top and thus-far-not-called-up pitching prospect Brent Honeywell stayed busy retweeting a dozen items of players getting promoted to the majors by other teams. … The Rays were among the teams scouting Japanese two-way star Shohei Otani when he returned to the mound last week in Sapporo. … Rangers star 3B Adrian Beltre blamed his potentially season-ending hamstring injury on playing at the Trop last week: "The turf at Tampa didn't help. Every time I go into places like that, I get soreness for a day. I'm not a big fan of that field." … Astros TV man Todd Kalas certainly felt comfortable during the relocated series to the Trop, working in the same booth he sat in many times during his 19 years as part of the Rays broadcast team.