1. Sports
  2. /
  3. Rays

Nine things we think we know as Rays’ playoff hunt winds down

Don’t expect a quick clincher as the team enters its final homestand of the regular season.
If the Rays end up popping champagne bottles, like they did in 2013 after beating the Texas Rangers 5-2 in an American League wild-card tiebreaker, don't expect the clincher to come at home. [TONY GUTIERREZ | AP]
Published Sep. 19
Updated Sep. 20

ST. PETERSBURG — With nine games left on the Rays’ regular-season schedule, and the very real possibility to make the playoffs for the first time since 2013, here are nine things we think we know:

It will go down to the final weekend

The Rays “magic number” to clinch a spot in the wild-card game by eliminating the Indians is 10, the needed combination of Tampa Bay wins and Cleveland losses. (The Indians won Thursday, tying the Rays for the second wild-card at 90-63, two games behind the A’s.) Even in a best case, or worst case, scenario, it would take six more days, so until Wednesday, for that race to be decided. And that would be with one team winning all its games and the other losing all its game. Barring that extreme, and with the Indians off Monday and the Rays off Thursday, the more realistic scenario is this being settled — bottles popped or dreams shattered — in Toronto.

Rays will have earned their spot

Compared to the other two wild-card prospects, the Rays have by far the toughest schedule. Their opponents’ win percentage calculated by is .535; the Indians are .483 and A’s .441. The Rays, starting Friday, have four games with the Red Sox, who didn’t do much for an encore after winning the last World Series, but may find some energy in making things tough on their division foes. Then two with the Yankees, who will have already clinched the AL East but are still playing for potential homefield advantage in the ALCS and World Series. And three to finish at Toronto, making for the odd circumstance of one of the longest-serving Rays staffers, Charlie Montoyo, being in position as manager of the Jays to spoil their chances.

MORE BASEBALL: So where do Pete Alonso’s feats rank among Tampa Bay’s ballplayers?

Chances slightly better than 50-50

Based on the average at four leading and publicly available websites, the Rays, after their impressive 8-7 11-inning win over the Dodgers, have a 56.85 percent chance to make the playoffs. That’s better than what, and project for the Indians, who average out at 46.9. The A’s are considered a near lock at 96.6 percent.

Right players are hot

The Rays' Willy Adames, left, and Austin Meadows, center, congratulate each other after scoring on a double by Tommy Pham off Los Angeles Dodgers relief pitcher Tony Gonsolin, right, on Wednesday. [MARK J. TERRILL | AP]

Playoff-chasing and postseason games can produce the occasional unheralded star. But for the most part, teams at this time of year need their best players to be their best players. And the Rays are getting a lot of that, starting with Austin Meadows, who is hitting .407 with eight homers and 19 RBIs on a career-best 16-game hitting streak. Tommy Pham, who had five hits Wednesday, is hitting .351 since Sept. 1. Ji-Man Choi has become an on-base machine. Travis d’Arnaud continues to deliver clutch hits and runs. Willy Adames is hitting .300 over the past two-plus weeks and playing strong defense at short. Closer Emilio Pagan is pitching with confidence.

RELATED: Join our Rays Fever Facebook group for conversation, polls, story links and more

Pitching will be key

Starters Charlie Morton and Ryan Yarbrough are no longer alone, as Tyler Glasnow and Blake Snell have come back after lengthy injury absences, and Yonny Chirinos is set to join them. The names look good, but with the returnees requiring special handling due to workload restrictions, the Rays still have to do matchup-oriented juggling with relievers. Manager Kevin Cash doesn’t like set bullpen roles, but it seems pretty clear who the Rays are going to count on most: Pagan to close, Nick Anderson for high-leverage set-up work, Oliver Drake for spot duty that includes tough lefties, Chaz Roe to get out a righty in a key moment. Of lesser responsibility, but higher concern given their inconsistencies, are rookies Colin Poche and Pete Fairbanks and second-year man Diego Castillo.

Unfazed by pressure

A handful of Rays have been through playoff chases before, but for most this is their first experience with the pressure, spotlight and scrutiny. Though Pham has hinted at an occasional lack of urgency in playing for the moment, Cash and other veterans seem pleased with how the situation is being handled. One of the biggest concerns is that players feel the need to try to do things differently rather than what’s gotten them to this point.

Expect more unpopular decisions from Cash

The Rays do things differently, usually on purpose and with extensive research. But Cash is the one who gets blamed when a bullpen move doesn’t work, a hit rolls through the shift or a changed lineup fails to produce. No manager is always right, and Cash has made some odd moves. But he is typically consistent in his decisions and well-reasoned, usually based on matchups or workload. Also, there is a difference between making the right move but having it go wrong because a player or pitcher doesn’t do the job he reasonably can be counted on to handle, such as Colin Poche walking the first batter and hitting the second on Tuesday. Also, they have won 90 games already.

RELATED: Five things you didn’t know from Tampa Bay Rays 8-7 win over Los Angeles Dodgers

There are reasons for concern

Kevin Kiermaier walks off the field after he strikes out looking with the bases loaded in the bottom of the fourth inning against Toronto on Sept. 7. [ALLIE GOULDING | Times]

Kevin Kiermaier has been struggling since coming back from his latest injury, and as much as his defense adds, the Rays need something from him offensively. Charlie Morton is pitching more at age 35 than he ever has, and hasn’t been as sharp recently. Glasnow, Snell and Chirinos can’t be counted on to be back to top form. Simple and sometimes common mistakes, such as walks by relievers and bad baserunning decisions, will be magnified.

Oakland is lovely this time of year

With the A’s holding a two-game lead for the top spot, the easier schedule, and the head-to-head tiebreaker, it would seem more likely if the Rays make it that they end up going west. If the A’s finish 5-4, for example, the Rays would have to go 8-1 to avoid a trip to Oakland. It’s an odd place to play given the football-friendly configuration, and the 5 p.m. California time start would lead to some odd shadows. Plus, the Rays’ 32-60 record there is their worst of any current AL park. But on the plus side, they are 7-4 the past three years, including 2-2 this year.

Contact Marc Topkin at Follow @TBTimes_Rays.


  1. A rainout likely clears the way for the Yankees to pitch Masahiro Tanaka on Thursday. MATT SLOCUM  |  AP
    Northeast expected to be hit by powerful coastal storm known as ‘Bomb Cyclone.’
  2. Rays relief pitcher Nick Anderson has earned two postseason honors thanks to his stellar performance in the team's bid to reach the postseason Doug Clifford | Tampa Bay Times
    July 31 trade acquisition from Marlins named to Baseball America’s all-rookie team and wins top Midwest player award.
  3. The Rays' Tommy Pham proved to be one of the team's best players in 2019. His success is made more remarkable by overcoming a debilitating eye disease in years past that threatened his career. CHRIS O'MEARA  |  AP
    Tommy Pham spoke to more than 150 doctors in San Francisco about his eye condition, keratoconus.
  4. Joe Maddon had successful runs with the Rays and Cubs, and now heads back to the Angels. Tampa Bay Times
    Maddon gets a reported three-year deal to return to his original organization, and one that could use his help.
  5. Tampa Bay Rays third baseman Joey Wendle (18) looks from the dugout after losing 6-1 to the Houston Astros after winning Game 5 of the American League Division Series Thursday, Oct. 10, 2019 in Houston. DIRK SHADD  |  Times
    Sports Day Tampa Bay: Times beat writer Marc Topkin looks ahead to the offseason, Rays free agents and the future of the opener.
  6. Astros starter Gerrit Cole continues his dominant postseason against the Yankees in Game 3. FRANK FRANKLIN II  |  AP
    Houston takes a two games to one lead at Yankee Stadium
  7. The Tampa Sports Authority is scheduled to take up a renovation proposal for New York Yankees spring training home George M. Steinbrenner Field today. The Yanks plan to improve outfield views and concourses, revamp entry ways and add shade for fans. [Getty Images]
    The team will host a ALCS watch party at its spring training home Tampa
  8. Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston (3) warms up before an NFL football game against the Carolina Panthers, Sunday, Oct. 13, 2019, at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant) ALASTAIR GRANT  |  AP
    Sports Day Tampa Bay podcast: What else went wrong in London, ranking the Rays, Lightning worries, Gators’ SEC title hopes.
  9. Yankees manager Aaron Boone talks about his plans for a bullpen day in Thursday's Game 4 of the American League Championship Series at Yankee Stadium. KATHY WILLENS  |  AP
    The Rays Way could play a role in the ALCS.
  10. The Nationals' Victor Robles reacts as he crosses home after hitting a home run during the sixth inning of a Game 3 rout of the Cardinals in the NL Championship Series. JEFF ROBERSON  |  AP
    Washington rolls to an 8-1 rout, is one game from World Series.