HOUSTON — Having clinched a playoff berth on Friday, the Rays head into the final days of the regular season with a few things still to play for.
Most prominent is their seeding among the three American League wild-card teams, which will determine who and where they play when the best-of-three, one-site Wild Card Series opens Friday.
Getting beat 2-1 by the AL-best Astros on Saturday didn’t help their chances to play at home, as they fell to 86-72 and three games behind the frontrunning Blue Jays (89-69) with four games left.
The Rays also have to assess the status and postseason roles for some individual players, perhaps none more vital than Shane McClanahan.
The lefty ace and All-Star starter delivered a somewhat encouraging five-inning performance after a pair that had raised questions about his effectiveness, with a lack of command the biggest concern as he returned from a 15-day injured list stint (left shoulder impingement).
McClanahan seemed to address that Saturday, allowing the two runs on five hits while walking one and throwing 45 of his 67 pitches for strikes. He also struck out only two (matching his career low from his last outing) and threw two wild pitches that factored into Houston’s two-run third inning.
“I felt good. That was really nice to see. I think I’m pretty proud of the way I threw the ball (Saturday),” he said. “Made some big pitches. I feel like I responded really, really well after those last two (outings) I had.
“To come back out fighting and kicking and competing in the zone and trust the guys behind me, it was good to see. I feel like I’m at a good finishing point this year, and I’m excited for whenever I get the ball next in the postseason.”
Most likely that will be in Game 1 on Friday, wherever the Rays are playing.
“He was better,” manager Kevin Cash said. “I think the command overall was good. ... I thought he was fine. I’ve been encouraged all season with him.”
The wild pitches, with catcher Francisco Mejia behind the plate, Cash said “don’t help” as one moved Jake Meyers from first to second to set up the first run and the other allowed Jose Altuve to score.
“We’ve got to do a better job of executing in those moments,” Cash said. “Good teams are going to take advantage, and they did.”
The Rays offense had another quiet game, scoring one or no runs for the fifth time in their last seven. They were held to two hits — both by David Peralta, who reached the 1,000-hit milestone — in six innings against Astros starter Cristian Javier, who ran his scoreless streak to 25 1/3 innings. They didn’t score until the ninth, when reliever Ryan Pressly walked two and Yandy Diaz delivered a pinch-hit RBI single.
Cash said before the game that playing at home was a priority this postseason, evidenced by their 51-30 record there vs. 35-42 on the road, the largest spread among the wild-card teams. But their chances to host at Tropicana Field could end soon, potentially by Sunday afternoon.
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“That’s a clear No. 1,” he said. “Then the other, I think you look at all those teams, they’re very good teams. Feel like we know Toronto better than the other ones, but we just saw Cleveland — very talented, can pitch. And what Seattle’s done this year, kind of their youth movement and their young pitching, has been outstanding.”
With the second-place Mariners (87-70) also winning Saturday, the Rays are 1 ½ games behind them, making a trip to Cleveland look the most likely. Under the new playoff format, the second-place wild-card team plays at the first, while the third faces the third-best division winner, which is the Central champ Guardians.
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