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It’s September and the Rays are still believing in October

Photo by Wayne Masut I The Scrum Sports

As the calendar turns to September, the Rays are still alive in the AL playoff picture.

Is it a long-shot? Sure it is. After their 5-3 win in Cleveland Saturday, the Rays are still eight games back for the final AL wild card. They’re 3.5 games behind the Mariners who are the only team between them and the current second wild card, Oakland Athletics. With 27 games remaining, eight games is not an insurmountable feat. Especially when you look at the recent track records of the three teams fighting for that wild card spot.

The A’s

Currently 3.5 games up on Seattle. If the playoffs began today – they’re in. But they don’t begin today. That 3.5 game lead over the Mariners was a 5.5 game lead just a week ago. But Seattle has taken the first two of three against Oakland over the weekend with the finale between the two teams set today. They’ll play Seattle three more times the last week of the month in Seattle. The A’s are 5-5 in their last 10 games in which the Rays have gone 8-2 and have split two games against the Indians this weekend with one more set for this afternoon.

Following the Mariners series, Oakland hosts the Yankees for three. New York is currently 4.5 games up on them for the first wild card so Oakland definitely has something to play for in that series. The rest of September looks quite easy for Oakland as they play just six games against teams above-.500 records the rest of the way. Three of those games against the Rays at Tropicana Field from September 14-16th.

The M’s

The first hurdle the Rays need to worry about. If Seattle gets hot it would make things that much more difficult. Sitting at 4-6 in their last 10, Seattle has been consistently inconsistent since the trade deadline. Back on August 1st, they were tied with Oakland for the final wild card and had an eight-game lead over the Rays. That lead has shrunk to 3.5 with 27 games to go. Of those final games, Seattle plays nine against above.500 teams (Yankees, Astros, A’s).

Seattle heads comes home to host Baltimore, New York, and San Diego for an eight-game home stand beginning Monday.

Don’t forget about…

The Astros.

Houston has a slim 2.5 game lead over the A’s. If by chance Oakland finds it’s way atop the AL West, now you’re looking at a third team in the wild card mix in the defending world champs.

All the Rays need to do…

Keep winning. Sweep a series or two over the remaining 27 games. There are opportunities to do just that. Heading to Toronto on Monday for three presents the first of those opportunities. In fact, 10 of the remaining games are against the Jays. A Jays team who just traded Curtis Granderson and Josh Donaldson away. A Jays team the Rays are 7-2 against in 2018.

After three in Toronto, the Rays come home for nine games against the Rangers, Indians, and A’s. Tropicana Field is where the Rays have thrived this season. They’ve clinched at least a .500 record there, currently sitting at 41-24 heading into September. It’s fair to say the season could come down to how they come out of those nine games at home. With rosters expanding, Mallex Smith due back any day, and the pitching staff still among the league’s best – the Rays have everything working in their favor.

2011 was one of the most incredible September runs in the history of baseball. That’s not just my opinion. It’s shared by just about anyone who’s anyone in the baseball world. Ask Yankee and Red Sox fans how they felt about “Game 162.” Watch them cringe.

That night was the culmination of a Rays squad that began the month of September in exactly the same spot they’re in today. Eight games back.

Is it possible that same magic can rear it’s beautiful head again? Sure, it’s possible. This time it would have to be at least two teams, both in the same division once again, to collapse. So sure, it’s possible. Is it probable? A realist would say no way. No chance that happens again. Especially for the same team.

This isn’t the same team. Some would say that 2011 team had a lot more talent than this 2018 squad has. That 2011 team had future Hall of Fame manager, Joe Maddon. This 2018 bunch has a fourth-year, 40-year old manager in Kevin Cash who has dealt with injuries, “the opener,” and an off-season full of “rebuilding” trades and loses.

But here they are. After beginning the season a franchise-worst 4-13, this young, hungry, and resilient Rays team finds itself nine games over .500 at 72-63 and alive and well in the playoff hunt.

“Meaningful baseball in September.”

That’s what every team hopes to be faced with this time of the year. It’s what the Rays were faced with this time last season as they finished just five games out of a wild card spot and an 80-82 record. Safe to say they’ll at least eclipse that win total. It’s hard to see this team falling apart that drastically.

Baseball is a funny game, though. September brings magic every season for someone. Is it the Rays time, once again?

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