ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays lost on Sunday. Of course they lost.
They were starting a rookie pitcher, a rookie third baseman and a rookie designated hitter. Their team MVP left in the second inning with hamstring tightness and was replaced by another rookie. Their starting catcher began the season in the minors, and the guy who pitched the ninth inning has been released by three teams in three years.
Of the 28 players on the active roster, 16 were not wearing a Tampa Bay uniform on opening day.
So, no, the story is not how the Rays lost 9-5 to the Blue Jays but rather how they are still standing.
Purists are fond of saying that a 162-game season is a grind, but 2023 has been a grind, a buzz saw, a medical rabbit hole and a psychological exam in Tampa Bay. And somehow, the Rays have the second-best record in the American League. Going into the final week of the regular season, they even have a minuscule chance for 100 wins.
So save your playoff worries until October. Stop obsessing over injuries, potential postseason opponents and missed opportunities in the American League East.
Instead, take a moment to appreciate one of the damnedest regular seasons you will ever see, and one of the more persistent, deep and flexible rosters around.
“There’s been a lot of (stuff),” manager Kevin Cash said Sunday afternoon. “Look, injuries are a part of the game. You have to learn how to deal with them. We’ve had our share; (Toronto) has had their share. You look throughout our division and there’s been a lot of injuries.
“There’s been other things this year that have taken a toll on this clubhouse, and that’s why you’re so proud of the group, how they’ve kind of stuck together through some very, very challenging times.”
Anything can happen on any given day, but the Rays have had bizarre, unforeseen moments on a ridiculous number of days.
• A 23-6 record in March/April that was the best start in franchise history, then an 8-16 July that was their worst month since 2007.
• Tyler Glasnow going down in February with an oblique strain, Jeffrey Springs blowing out his elbow in April, Drew Rasmussen’s elbow falling apart in May and Shane McClanahan opting for Tommy John surgery in August. There was not a single moment in the regular season when the entire starting rotation was intact.
• Wander Franco, who played in the All-Star Game on July 11 and then seemingly was banished Aug. 13 after allegations of inappropriate relationships with minors. He still has the highest WAR on the team, yet his name is heard only in hushed tones.
• Jose Siri, Luke Raley, Brandon Lowe and Jason Adam going on the injured list in 11 days in September, and that doesn’t include Randy Arozarena and Yandy Diaz, who left games over the weekend with muscle tightness.
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“The expectation this year was to come out and win and win at a high clip and put ourselves in position to get to the postseason,” Cash said. “(But) if you would have told me in spring training that all of this stuff would have happened — the injuries and everything else — I probably would have been scratching my head a little bit.”
There’s still a week remaining in the regular season, but realistically, it ended for the Rays on Sunday. It was probably finished in the second inning when Taj Bradley gave up five runs and Diaz left with hamstring tightness.
A few hours later, the Rays fell 2½ games behind the Orioles in the East, and honestly, that may be for the best. The odds of catching and passing Baltimore, which has the tiebreak advantage, are now incredibly remote.
So the Rays are probably better off giving Diaz and Arozarena some time off their feet while setting up their rotation and bullpen for the wild-card series that starts Oct. 3. Admittedly, that’s a tricky proposition because the Rays took their foot off the gas in the final week of 2022, then looked lifeless in the wild-card round against Cleveland.
But getting healthy is more important than winning the final five games. And figuring out how rookies Curtis Mead, Junior Caminero and Osleivis Basabe, as well as Jonathan Aranda, fit on the postseason roster could be an important consideration this week.
I’m not suggesting the Rays wave a white flag on the upcoming road trip through Boston and Toronto, but a detente is not a bad idea.
For a team that has endured slings, whirlpools and an ongoing journey through legal purgatory, a quiet, restful final week of the regular season doesn’t sound like the worst idea.
Contact John Romano at email@example.com. Follow @Romano_TBTimes.
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