KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Rays rolled into Kansas City on Monday determined to change history, and their easy 12-0 win temporarily shoved aside what had been a mind-boggling streak of losing 15 times in their previous 16 tries at picturesque and otherwise enjoyable Kauffman Stadium.
In taking the series opener from the listing Royals — who have lost five straight and are on a mind-numbing streak of their own, shut out for 43 straight innings, five shy of the major-league ignominy — the Rays moved up a notch in the crowded American League wild-card race.
But the stakes could be much higher.
Simply, the direction of their season — and even future seasons — could be shaped by the next three days.
Well, the calendar is the primary factor.
The end of the series with the Royals will bring the Rays to Aug. 31, which is essentially baseball's second trade deadline, the last day players can be traded and be eligible for postseason play.
And there's legitimate reason to wonder if the Rays will decide, after being buyers in July, to become sellers now.
As much as Rays players, coaches and manager Kevin Cash are convinced they can make up the ground (21/2 games) and leap over the (five) teams necessary to win that second wild-card spot, the top front office officials ultimately have to objectively decide if they think they really have a chance, especially after the 3-12 stretch that knocked them back into the pack.
Even then, their heart may tell them one thing but their heads — and whirring laptops — will provide more telling data.
Even after taking two of three in St. Louis, for example, their odds of making the playoffs based on the fangraphs.com computer simulation model were just 13.9 percent. Put another way, just to get to 85 wins, the Rays, at 66-67, would have to win 19 of their remaining 29 games.
And that, we have to remind, is just to be the visiting team in a one-game play-in game, with the loser going home not even feeling like it qualified for the postseason.
If the Rays don't like their chances, on either front, they could decide to take some of the players they acquired in July, as well as some of their own pending free agents, and see what kind of deals they can make to recoup their acquisition costs, either reducing the additional millions of salary they took on or replacing some of the prospects they traded.
(Or to be fair, albeit less likely, they also could look to further bolster their roster and made another addition.)
"It's like the whole trade deadline all over again," Rays starter Jake Odorizzi said. "We went all in for it, and unfortunately we had that tough week where it kind of spun things really out of control.
"Three back with a month to go, there's still plenty of time to make up for it. But at the same time, we need to show promise now, and that we're trending the right way. If we keep playing .500 ball it's not going to get the job done."
August trades require players to be put on waivers, where if they are claimed they can either be pulled back or dealt (or given, contract and all) to the claiming team or, if they clear, traded anywhere.
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In order to make trades by Thursday's midnight postseason eligibility deadline, the Rays would have to have put their players on waivers by today, and there are indications they have and/or will have done so with a group of pending free agents. (Specifics are supposed to be kept confidential, but some names get out.)
It would make sense for the Rays to at least explore their options on acquisitions such as first baseman Lucas Duda and relievers Steve Cishek and Sergio Romo. The same with in-house pending free agents first baseman Logan Morrison, reliever Tommy Hunter and outfielder Peter Bourjos.
And, most interestingly, starter Alex Cobb.
That's because Cobb, who is slated to start tonight, is a major part not just of the rotation but also the clubhouse leadership, and while they could spin dealing just about any of the others based on return, Cobb would be an extremely tough sell to the players. (Though unless they want to risk making an $18.2 million one-year qualifying offer, this could be their only chance to get something back for him. The others all seem likely to walk for no return.)
Several players said they would see no reason for their bosses cashing in any of the chips given their potential to make the playoffs. "What would be the point?" Chris Archer said. "Unless you got completely overwhelmed, like we better be getting three (top prospect) Willy Adameses, that type, there's no point."
Others had a more practical view. "Wouldn't be surprised at all," Morrison said. "It's a business."
And one that could get very interesting over the next three days.
Marc Topkin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.