SEATTLE — Normally we would wait for September to start writing about playoff chase and postseason experience, how much having a handful of veterans with it can help the Rays and the overall lack might hurt.
But the way this season is shaping up, with at least three teams battling for the two AL wild-card spots, it feels like an extended-play version, with the races already defined and underway.
Barring stunning, although not unprecedented, collapses, the Astros and Yankees seem assured of playing into October. The surging Indians and Rocco Baldelli’s surprising Twins look like they’ll be battling for a while for the Central Division title. The loser of that race joins the Rays and the A’s, plus the not-dead-yet Red Sox and maybe a late surprise entrant, competing for the two wild-card spots. And within that chase is the battle for the important right to host the one-game showdown.
“We’ve been basically playing playoff-type games for the last few weeks,” Rays reliever Emilio Pagan said.
So what’s it going to take for the Rays to make their first playoff appearance since 2013?
The number of wins needed to get in, based on four public computer projections, looks to be 92-93.
So — to avoid that Game 163 playoff play-in in Oakland — let’s use 93. With 67 wins in 117 games going into play Saturday, the Rays are winning at a .573 clip. To get to 93, they would need to win 26 of their remaining 45 games, a similar .577 pace. And given they’re in a stretch of 21 straight games against teams with losing records, they have a chance to bank some, conceivably 14-15, of those W’s.
But it won’t be that simple going forward.
Pressure, real and manufactured, will increase. Attention will be magnified, as will mistakes. Games will speed up. Lights will look brighter. Decisions will be more loudly debated. Questions will get tougher. Small issues will become larger. Crowds will (in theory) get bigger.
So what advice do some of the players who’ve been through races have for their Rays mates who haven’t?
Travis d’Arnaud, Mets:
“Everyone’s different (in how they handle it). … It’s an exciting time. I’m sure a lot of people are scoreboard looking. But all in all we still have over 40 games left and all we can focus on is winning a series at a time, and good things will happen. … I think these guys will be good — they all have high energy, and they never give up, and that’s all you can really ask for."
Avisail Garcia, Tigers:
"I was a little nervous, but it was a good nervous. These guys are going to be okay because they’ve played in the big leagues already. That was my first year. … It’s exciting.”
Charlie Morton, Pirates and Astros:
“It’s exciting, it’s taxing, it’s stressful. Especially in the wild-card race because you’re relying on other teams to fail. It’s not a straight up us versus them. A lot of time a lot of chips have to fall your way. … Teams in weaker divisions can win their division and not be nearly as good as you. You’re in third place in your division and playing for a wild-card spot, so it can be frustrating, too. … (Pressure) probably affects different guys in different ways. … The energy and tension that’s surrounding you, it just becomes even more chaotic. … It’s just different.”
Emilio Pagan, A’s:
“You can’t panic too much if you lose two or three in a row because everybody is battling. There’s so many teams in it that the standings are going to be fluctuating pretty much weekly. And anything can happen so you can’t panic or get too excited if you win four or five in a row. It’s going to be fun.”
Chances are ...
Here are the four common computer projections (through Friday) from Baseball Prospectus (BP), Baseball Reference.com (BBR), fivethirtyeight.com (538) and fangraphs.com (FG) on the contending teams’ AL playoff chances:
How tough will it be?
Using computer projections based on 10,000 simulations of the rest of the season, fangraphs.com also determines strength of remaining schedule. And that looks good for the Rays, who have it third-easiest of the seven playoff contenders. The Twins have it easiest, with a projected .464 winning percentage for their remaining opponents. From there, it’s Astros .469, Rays .483, Yankees .486, Red Sox .490, A’s .494, Indians .498.
Put another way, here are the remaining games against contenders for the AL wild-card hopefuls:
|Rays||Astros 3, Indians 3, Red Sox 4, Yankees 2|
|A's||Astros 8, Yankees 6|
|Indians||Twins 7, Red Sox 3, Yankees 4, Mets 3, Rays 3, Phillies 3, Nats 3|
|Twins||Indians 7, Brewers 2, Red Sox 3, Nats 3|
|Red Sox||Indians 3, Phillies 4, Twins 3, Yankees 4, Rays 4|
Been there, done that
Here are the nine current Rays (active or injured list) with postseason experience and games played, though some were on rosters for more:
Jesus Aguilar, 10
Travis d’Arnaud, 14
Yandy Diaz, 1
Matt Duffy, 8
Avisail Garcia, 12
Kevin Kiermaier, 1
Charlie Morton, 7
Tommy Pham, 3
Eric Sogard, 5
Note: Reliever Emilio Pagan was on Oakland’s wild-card roster in 2018 but didn’t pitch.
Ryne Stanek was a nice-enough guy during his parts of three seasons and 142 innings over 121 games with the Rays, lived year-round in Tampa, and was a good sport about being the poster boy for the opener strategy. But a welcome-back video, four days after being traded as part of a package deal to the Marlins? … One early October question: If the Rays make the playoffs (or even the wild-card game) do they reopen the Trop upper deck or stay with the 25,025 capacity? … One early offseason question: Do the Rays try, and how much of a chance do they have, to sign d’Arnaud, who heads into free agency after making $3.515 million this year, paid mostly by the Mets? And if so, what to do with Mike Zunino, heading into his final year of arbitration after making $4.4125 million. … The all-white players’ weekend jerseys don’t look like much, but they’re certainly better for the Rays than the all-black ones the Orioles have chosen to wear for the Aug. 23-25 games in potentially still steamy Baltimore. … The “mystery” of manager Kevin Cash’s “Rocco’s Seat Warmer” nickname deepens. Clubhouse manager Ryan Denlinger and video guy Chico Fernandez denied involvement, and they suggested bench coach Matt Quatraro, who claimed innocence, albeit not convincingly, saying there was a list of suggestions. … Houston’s Gerrit Cole, to SI.com, on ex-mate and now Rays ace Morton: “It’s like coming across Jack Nicklaus. There’s one of those. There’s one Charlie Morton.’’ … Morton skipped the team flight and day off in Seattle to stay home for son Cam’s school orientation, then headed west Friday morning. … Good to see ex-Ray Ben Zobrist working past the personal issues related to his divorce and back on the field in the Cubs’ minor-league system. … With Monday’s game in San Diego, radio guys Andy Freed and Dave Wills will join the lucky media folks to have worked in all 30 current big-league stadiums, as I have. … Wednesday is the last scheduled game for TV play-by-play man Kevin Burkhardt, who has filled in aptly for Dewayne Staats and now returns to NFL (and baseball playoffs hosting) duties with Fox.
Contact Marc Topkin at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.