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10 most important Rays down the stretch

With one-third of the season remaining, there are several players who can make a difference,
The Rays' need Brandon Lowe, left, and Randy Arozarena at the top of their game as the regular season starts to wind down and a playoff berth is in reach.
The Rays' need Brandon Lowe, left, and Randy Arozarena at the top of their game as the regular season starts to wind down and a playoff berth is in reach. [ CHARLES KRUPA | AP ]
Published Aug. 9

MILWAUKEE — The Rays will take the field Tuesday night headed into the final third of their season not feeling half bad about where they are considering they have been playing without their full roster.

At 58-50, they hold the second of the three American League wild-card spots, with a 1 ½-game cushion to be in the field.

They are on pace for 87 wins and have a better chance than not to make the playoff field based on several of the leading projection models: 58.7 percent per Fangraphs.com; 55.5 per baseball-reference.com; 54 percent per FiveThirtyEight.com.

And they are confident that having gotten this far shorthanded they will be a much better team soon. Over the next three weeks, several key impact players who missed extended time due to injury are expected to return.

“It hasn’t been a normal year for any of us,” said slugging second baseman Brandon Lowe. “A lot of injuries. Hopefully we have a lot of guys coming back here down the stretch. So for us to roll and have some guys come back to help us keep rolling, it’s going to be a fun recipe the rest of the season.”

Here are the 10 players who may matter most:

10. Tyler Glasnow, starter

Rays pitcher Tyler Glasnow has been sidelined since Tommy John surgery last August.
Rays pitcher Tyler Glasnow has been sidelined since Tommy John surgery last August. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]

There is no guarantee Glasnow, who is completing his rehab from August 2021 Tommy John elbow surgery, will even come back to pitch this season; whether he would be able to work more than an inning or two at a time if he did; or if he would be anywhere close to his dominant pre-injury form. But it would be a major emotional boost for the team if he did.

9. Colin Poche, reliever

Relievers like Colin Poche will become more instrumental to the team's success during the final stretch of the regular season.
Relievers like Colin Poche will become more instrumental to the team's success during the final stretch of the regular season. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]

Poche has been the lefty counterpart to Jason Adam in handling high-leverage situations and has a team-leading seven saves. The Rays are hoping he is back on track after a recent rough stretch (6.94 ERA, three blown saves in 13 games). With starter innings to be limited, the Rays will rely even more on their bullpen, and they need Poche, Pete Fairbanks, Brooks Raley and Ryan Thompson to be on their game.

8. Harold Ramirez, outfielder

Manager Kevin Cash gives a high-five to designated hitter Harold Ramirez, who was more productive than perhaps the Rays thought he would be before injury.
Manager Kevin Cash gives a high-five to designated hitter Harold Ramirez, who was more productive than perhaps the Rays thought he would be before injury. [ JEFFEREE WOO | Times ]
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Ramirez, a seemingly small mid-spring acquisition who also sees time at DH and first base, has become a huge part of the offense with his .329 average and .825 OPS, contact-oriented approach, occasional power and clutch prowess. He had his right thumb broken by a pitch in the final game before the All-Star break and a late-August return would provide a welcome boost and thicken the lineup, as well as take some at-bats from the struggling Ji-Man Choi.

7. Francisco Mejia, catcher

Francisco Mejia has the Rays' full trust behind the plate.
Francisco Mejia has the Rays' full trust behind the plate. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]

With Mike Zunino out for the season and no catcher added at the trade deadline, the Rays made it clear they trust Mejia for his switch-hitting at the plate, game calling and his improved throwing. They’ll see if their faith was well placed.

6. Manuel Margot, outfielder

The return of Manuel Margot, perhaps later this month, will be a huge boost to the lineup.
The return of Manuel Margot, perhaps later this month, will be a huge boost to the lineup. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]

What had the makings of an All-Star season for the quiet leader then looked to be over when he was carted off the field with a right knee injury June 20. But damage was limited, recovery has been encouraging and the Rays now expect him and his steady bat and smooth glove back around Aug. 20.

5. Wander Franco, shortstop

Wander Franco still has time to put an exclamation point on his sophomore season.
Wander Franco still has time to put an exclamation point on his sophomore season. [ JEFFEREE WOO | Times ]

You can look at this as a lost sophomore season for the Rays’ 21-year-old wonder, or bank on him coming back in late August after two long absences (quad strain, broken hamate bone) with a vengeance to re-establish himself as one of the game’s most dynamic young stars. The Rays are counting, heavily, on the latter.

4. Jason Adam, reliever

Jason Adam has been the reliable reliever the Rays need with injuries all over the roster.
Jason Adam has been the reliable reliever the Rays need with injuries all over the roster. [ JEFFEREE WOO | Times ]

With Andrew Kittredge and JP Feyereisen out injured, and Pete Fairbanks missing the first half of the season, the Rays needed a right-handed reliever to handle the seemingly daily high-leverage moments. Up stepped Adam, he of the previous career 4.71 ERA and no saves. In his first 47 games, he posted a 1.24 ERA, converted five of six saves, stranded 23 of 24 inherited runners.

3. Shane McClanahan, starter

Shane McClanahan hasn't yet rounded back into his pre-All-Star break form, but there's no doubt he's an ace the Rays need down the stretch and beyond.
Shane McClanahan hasn't yet rounded back into his pre-All-Star break form, but there's no doubt he's an ace the Rays need down the stretch and beyond. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]

Manager Kevin Cash is adamant there is no reason to be concerned and the ace lefty says he feels fine physically as he approaches his career high in innings pitched. So maybe it’s just coincidence, bad breaks and good at-bats, as the team suggests, for why McClanahan hasn’t been very good since his All-Star outing.

In 18 games before the break, he was 10-3, 1.77, allowed a .177 average and .506 OPS, averaged 0.62 hits and 1.32 strikeouts per inning and had a 17 percent swing and miss rate. In the three games since, he is 0-2, 5.60, allowed a .227 average and .641 OPS, averaged 0.85 hits and 0.79 strikeouts per inning and has a 15 percent swing-and-miss rate. There’s the obvious benefit of him putting them in position to win his starts, but also the confidence a team has with its best pitcher on the mound at key junctures. The Rays need it all.

2. Randy Arozarena, outfielder

Randy Arozarena is a dynamic player, but he doesn't always make the best choices once on base.
Randy Arozarena is a dynamic player, but he doesn't always make the best choices once on base. [ JEFFEREE WOO | Times ]

Arozarena can be the most exciting player on the field one minute, given his ability and athleticism, and the most frustrating the next, given his decision-making. He leads the Rays in hits (102), RBIs (51) and steals (21) and with 12 homers has a shot at a second straight 20-20 season. But he has made 20 outs on the bases, struck out a team-high 108 times and can drift into extended funks. Similarly, the Rays need Yandy Diaz to get back to his usual consistent play.

1. Brandon Lowe, second baseman

Brandon Lowe has been the consistent bat in the lineup since his mid-July return.
Brandon Lowe has been the consistent bat in the lineup since his mid-July return. [ JEFFEREE WOO | Times ]

Lowe is the biggest game-changer in the lineup when he gets on one of his hot streaks given his potential to go deep — or at least drive a ball into a gap — on any swing, and his presence helps the rest of the Rays’ hitters. Lowe seems determined to make up for lost time after a low back injury forced him to miss two months and limited him before that. In his first 17 games since returning July 16, he hit .324 with a .916 OPS, with five doubles and three homers.

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