Holding steady as the first wild card through the first half of 2019, the Rays have a bigger prize in sight.
ST. PETERSBURG – Heading into the All Star break winning the final two games of four against the first place Yankees was huge. It was huge for a number of reasons, more importantly in the standings. As the unofficial second half of the 2019 season begins in Baltimore Friday, the Rays sit atop the AL wild card standings with a half game lead on the Indians and a two-game lead over Oakland who would currently be the first team out if the playoffs started today.
While the wild card would most certainly be exciting to clinch, the Rays have their sights set upwards at a bigger prize.
The AL East crown.
Splitting the four games against New York was pivotal. As the second half begins with four games in Baltimore against the last place Orioles just six and a half games separate the Rays from the first place Yankees.
Expectations for the second half
Firstly, don’t count out the defending champs.
The Boston Red Sox are just two and a half games behind the Rays and have shown plenty of signs their 1-8 start was a fluke. This will be a three-team race the final few months of the year. For the Rays to hold at least a wild card spot come October – a few things need to fall into place or at the very least hold steady.
Pitching must carry the load.
Despite the struggles of the bullpen in June and parts of early July, the Rays hold the best team ERA in the AL (3.32). A huge part of that is due to all star Charlie Morton and before he was injured, Tyler Glasnow. Morton leads the AL in ERA (2.32) and is tied for second in wins (10). He’s done more than a fair job picking up the weight left by the injured Glasnow who may not play again this season. Yonny Chirinos has had plenty of shining moments, himself, as a late addition to the rotation.
Ryne Stanek is still the “opener” despite having a string of outings giving up early runs. The biggest issue is the bullpen and there’s no doubt it will be at the top of the Rays trade deadline list over the next few weeks. One, maybe two veteran arms (possibly a legit closer) will be closely looked at to solidify the relief staff.
Offensively, the Rays are middle of the pack in just about every category in the AL. Their offense has proven it can catch fire on any given night against any pitcher. In order to keep up with the big boys in the East, they’re gonna have to get just a bit more than that. All star and likely Rookie of the Year, Brandon Lowe, leads the team with 16 home runs and 49 RBI. Fellow all star Austin Meadows has tailed off significantly since his white-hot start. He needs to get toasty quickly and the Rays need to continue to get consistent production out of Tommy Pham, Avisail Garcia, and Co in order to give the offense a legit chance to keep up with the likes of the Yankees and quite possibly the Red Sox if they get any closer.
A favorable August
As the calendar turns to the fall months, the standings could look quite different. The Rays play nine games the second half of July against the Yankees (4) and the Sox (5). Come August, the schedule gets a little lighter with 21-straight against teams at or below the .500 mark.
If the Rays want to head into September still legit contenders – they need to stockpile plenty of wins in that stretch of August.
Lowe, Morton are finalists, Rays clinch birth
The Rays will make the playoffs in 2019.
There, it took you this long to get to the good stuff. It’s a slim margin right now, sure. But this team is getting healthier and proving it can bounce back after short losing streaks. Watch them and the proof is out there. They’re young, hungry, and Kevin Cash has them believing they’re contenders…because they are. Not just in the standings but in the clubhouse.
The Rays will finish second in the East.
The Sox just don’t have the pitching to climb over the Rays let alone get back their division crown. They’ll finish with a winning record but short of a playoff birth.
Lowe (Brandon) will lock up AL Rookie of the Year and Morton will finish in the top three of the AL Cy Young votes. Glasnow could make a return in September. If that’s the case – look out. He’s a deadly late-season addition to an already solid pitching staff.
Are these predictions really that steep? Look at the body of work going back to 2018. This team is primed for it’s first playoff birth since 2013 and they’ll get it this year.
The Tampa Bay Rays will hang another banner from the Tropicana Field rafters in April.
At least another wild card banner, anyway.
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