Rays clinch AL wild card berth, aim to shock the world in MLB postseason

Mark Townsend
Yahoo Sports Contributor

The Tampa Bay Rays are back in the postseason.

With their 6-2 win against the Toronto Blue Jays and the Cleveland Indians’ loss to the Washington Nationals. the Rays clinched a spot in the American League wild-card game. They will now face the Oakland Athletics in the winner-take-all battle scheduled for Oct. 2. The only question is where that game will be played. Oakland currently has a half-game lead in the race for home-field advantage.

The Rays clinched in fitting style on Friday. Starter Tyler Glasnow and five relievers held Toronto to two runs on four hits while breakout star Austin Meadows cracked his team-leading 33rd home run.

It’s Tampa Bay’s first trip to the postseason since 2013. That seems like a long time considering how competitive the Rays usually are even in the face of tough competition and long odds. It’s the Rays’ fifth postseason appearance overall, and their third as a wild-card team.

With 96 wins, the Rays still have a chance to tie or break the franchise’s current record of 97 wins set in 2008. That’s the same season Tampa Bay made its only World Series appearance, losing in five games to the Philadelphia Phillies.

In order for Tampa Bay to earn another World Series trip, it will have to shock the world by pulling off a series of October upsets. The AL wild-card winner will face off against the Houston Astros or New York Yankees in the ALDS, depending on which team locks up the No. 1 seed.

How the Rays won an AL wild card

It’s all about the pitching.

For the third straight season, Tampa Bay has put together a top-eight pitching staff. In fact, only the Los Angeles Dodgers have posted a lower team ERA than the Rays in 2019.

Even more impressive, the Rays have done it despite Blake Snell and Tyler Glasnow making a combined 34 starts.

Snell, of course, was the AL Cy Young award winner last season. He has a 4.21 ERA in 104.2 innings this season. Glasnow, 26, has a 1.92 ERA in 56.1 innings. In their absence, Charlie Morton took over as the ace. Morton is 16-6 with a 3.05 ERA over 194.2 innings.

The Rays have again relied heavily on the bullpen. They lead the league with 763 1/3 innings from their relievers, which doesn’t include the innings relievers have pitched as openers in games. Their 3.62 bullpen ERA ranks second in MLB.

Offensively, the Rays are middle of the pack in runs scored and bottom in home runs with 213. They have some quality hitters though. In addition to Austin Meadows, Tommy Pham, Avisail Garcia and Willy Adames have all quietly put together strong seasons.

The Tampa Bay Rays are going to the postseason for the first time since 2013. (AP)

What the Rays have to do to win the World Series

The Rays will need their pitching to keep rolling. It’s that simple.

The pitching staff is a genuine strength that should allow them to compete against some of baseball’s most dominant lineups, all of which they’ll have to overcome to go all the way. If the pitching falters, there probably isn’t a path for them to the World Series.

With that said, even if the pitching keeps things under control, the Rays will still have to put some runs on the board. The relative lack of power will have to be made up for with timely hitting.

Lingering questions

After missing time with injuries during the regular season, both Blake Snell and Tyler Glasnow appear to be healthy heading into October. That’s good news. But it’s still reasonable to wonder how much load they can handle and how far the Rays might be willing to push two of their cornerstones.

Offensively, the Rays have a very young core with Austin Meadows, Willy Adames, Brandon Lowe and Nate Lowe all 24 years or younger. Each has held his own this season, but the postseason is a different experience. How they handle the pressure and playoff atmosphere could determine whether the Rays can truly overcome the odds.

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