As Labor Day approaches, here is something only a few super fans would have actually believed possible in April; the Rays actually have a reasonable chance to make the post season. Somehow, Tampa Bay is only three and one-half games behind the Texas Rangers for the second Wild Card spot.
With a record of 66-66, the Rays are tied with Anaheim and have only the Minnesota Twins ahead of them before possibly chasing down the Rangers. Kevin Cash deserves a few votes for American League Manager of the Year.
Fewer would be surprised if Joe Maddon was still pulling the strings from the dugout. But rookie manager Cash has the Rays in contention with less horsepower than Maddon had in 2014.
Consider this: In the past 13 months, Tampa Bay has traded David Price to Detroit; shipped Matt Joyce to Anaheim; traded Jeremy Hellickson to Arizona; sent Will Myers to San Diego and traded both Yunel Escobar and the ever-dependable Ben Zobrist to Oakland.
Those are just the players who are gone. Injuries have taken a toll on some of those who remained.
John Jaso, James Loney and Desmond Jennings have played only sparingly this year. On the pitching side, Alex Cobb and Matt Moore are either dealing with Tommy John (elbow) surgery or its after effects. Jake McGee has logged only 35 innings in between stints on the disabled list.
While not injured, the Rays’ biggest star, Evan Longoria, is not having a Longoria-type of year. Unless he has a big September, Longoria’s home run and RBI totals will be at or near career lows when playing a full season.
Despite all of this, the Rays can still make the Wild Card game with a strong September. With 30 games remaining, their schedule provides both opportunity and hurdles. Of those 30 games, 18 are against teams with losing records. The other 12 are split evenly between the Eastern Division-leading Toronto Blue Jays and the Yankees, who own the best record among Wild Card hopefuls.
They are 5-8 against New York this year and 8-5 against Toronto. Bad news for the Rays: the Blue Jays have won 22 of their last 27 games. Toronto comes to town to conclude the regular season on October 2-4.
Tampa Bay is 7-7 against Baltimore and has 5 remaining against the Orioles. The Rays are in Detroit for three games this weekend against a Tigers team they defeated two out of three in St. Petersburg earlier.
The Rays are 6-6 against the Red Sox and have seven games remaining with them. The reeling Miami Marlins start the final home stand on September 29. Tampa Bay took two of three from the Fish during the first road trip of the season in early April.
Anaheim has the toughest schedule among contenders. The Angels face teams with winning records 20 times over their final 30 games, including seven against the Rangers, six against the Central Division-leading Houston Astros, three against the Twins and three against their freeway rival Dodgers.
Like Tampa Bay, Minnesota has 18 games against teams with losing records. The Angels, Astros and Royals provide the stiffest competition.
The Rays may not make the playoffs, but to even be in the conversation, some players had to step up. At the same time, a steady hand had to be leading them.
The Manager of the Year will likely come down to Kansas City’s Ned Yost, Toronto’s John Gibbons or Houston’s A. J. Hinch. If the Rays do finish strong, Cash will at least get some votes. So will the Yankees’ Joe Girardi.
His first season in Tampa Bay can be summed up quite simply; Kevin Cash has been money.