Let’s get one thing out of the way right off the top: if the Tampa Bay Rays do not make the postseason in 2022, it will be a big disappointment.
The Rays currently hold the top Wild Card spot. They have a 1.5 game lead over the Blue Jays and the Mariners, and a comfortable four-game lead over the Orioles, who are on the outside looking in.
They are the third-best team in the American League by win-loss record (69-55), and the fourth-best team by run differential (+52). According to the PECOTA projection system, they have 82.3% odds of making the postseason. On FanGraphs, those odds are 82.9%.
Wild Card Competition for Tampa Bay
Most major projection systems slightly favor Toronto and Seattle over Tampa Bay. (The Rays have a harder schedule over the final weeks of the season.) Even so, each system still predicts the Rays will make the playoffs.
And how could they not? After all, there is a sizeable drop-off between the Rays, Blue Jays, and Mariners and the next best AL teams. Neither the Twins nor the White Sox are quite as talented, and while the Orioles continue to surprise everyone, it would still be a major upset if they earned a postseason berth.
According to projections from FanGraphs, PECOTA, Baseball Reference, and 538, the White Sox are the most likely team to challenge for a Wild Card spot. While they currently sit behind the Twins and the Orioles in the standings, they have the easiest remaining schedule. However, Chicago’s playoff odds are still significantly lower than Tampa Bay’s.
The Tampa Bay Rays should have a clear path to the postseason. That being said, they cannot afford to get complacent – they aren’t the New York Yankees. There is still enough time for Baltimore, Minnesota, or Chicago to make a run.
The Twins will break out of their current slump eventually. The White Sox will benefit from their particularly easy schedule going forward. And as we have learned this season, there’s no counting out the Orioles.
The season is far from over, and these teams are far from eliminated.
The Rays Are Heating Up in August
The Tampa Bay Rays should expect to make the playoffs for the fourth straight season. That being said, they’ll need to keep playing well in order to do so. If their recent performance is any indication, that shouldn’t be a problem.
Tampa Bay has won six-straight and eight of their last ten games. Since August 1, they are 15-7, the best record in the AL. They have scored 100 runs and allowed just 66 in that time.
Shane McClanahan has become one of the best pitchers around, and he and Drew Rasmussen continue to dominate at the top of the rotation. Jeffrey Springs has been a delightful surprise since his mid-season promotion to a starting role, and he has been lights out so far in August. The bullpen has been one of the best units in the game.
On the offensive side of things, Randy Arozarena is once again hitting like he did back in his incredible rookie season. Christian Bethancourt is proving to have been a smart deadline acquisition. Harold Ramírez is continuing his strong breakout season after returning from the injured list.
So, Tampa Bay is a good baseball team. They’re that now, and they have proven that all season long. The final stretch of the season, however, will be the true test of just how good they really are.
A Tough Schedule to End the Year
The Rays finish off August on an easier note, but things will get difficult in September.
Starting September 2, they will play 33 games in 34 days. They will face the Yankees six times, the Astros six times, the Guardians three times, and the Blue Jays a whopping nine times. Those opponents are not going to make things easy for Tampa, and the gruelling schedule will be a challenge for their pitching staff.
Fortunately for the Rays, with their cushion in the Wild Card race, they are well-positioned to weather the trials ahead.
They have nine games remaining against the Red Sox, three against the Rangers and two against the Marlins. If they can beat up on those mediocre teams like they have all season (35-18 vs. teams below .500), they can afford a few more losses against stronger competition.
Say, for example, Tampa Bay wins 9 of 14 against Boston/Texas/Miami and 11 of 24 against New York/Houston/Cleveland/Toronto. In such a case, they would finish the year 89-73.
Were that to happen, the Orioles would need to go 25-13 (.658), the Twins 27-12 (.692), and the White Sox 26-11 (.702) to surpass the Rays. In other words, they’d have to play like the Dodgers over the final six weeks of the season.
Even if Tampa finished with as few as 85 wins, it would still be an uphill battle for Baltimore, Minnesota, or Chicago to usurp them based on their current records.
All this to say, the Tampa Bay Rays have a postseason berth within their grasp. They would have to fall flat on their faces in September to lose their Wild Card spot. But considering how tough their schedule looks, a full-on face plant isn’t totally out of the question.
It ain’t over ’til it’s over, as they say.