ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Kevin Cash doesn't want to get anyone's hopes up too much. With 17 games left to play, the Rays face a steep eight-game climb in order to catch the A's for the second Wild Card spot in the American League. MLB.com's postseason projections give Tampa Bay
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Kevin Cash doesn't want to get anyone's hopes up too much. With 17 games left to play, the Rays face a steep eight-game climb in order to catch the A's for the second Wild Card spot in the American League. MLB.com's postseason projections give Tampa Bay a 0.2 percent chance of chasing down Oakland.
Even with three games upcoming against the A's this weekend, Cash won't get too excited about those ultra-slim odds.
"To be honest I don't know how big this series is," the manager said Friday. "The A's have a pretty substantial lead over us."
Tampa Bay will get a somewhat significant jolt for the opener, though. Matt Duffy, one of the Rays' most reliable hitters, is back in the lineup after sitting out a 3-1 win against the Indians on Wednesday with a back injury. Duffy, who only played two innings off the bench Tuesday, batted second and played third base against A's pitcher Edwin Jackson.
The back injury never appeared to be serious, and the concern was never particularly on how it would affect him at the plate. Cash said Duffy's issues have been more on defense. The infielder took about 15 ground balls prior to the series opener, which gave Cash confidence to place Duffy in the starting lineup, even as he continues to deal with some "discomfort," as Duffy describes it.
"I don't think the pain is completely out of there, but he wants to be in there," Cash said. "We need him back in there because he's such a big part of our defense and our lineup."
Duffy is in the middle of a bounce-back season after he missed the entire 2017 campaign with a left Achilles injury. The 27-year-old is on pace for career bests with a .297 batting average and a .359 on-base percentage.
If the Rays are going to chase down Oakland, Duffy's presence could be critical. The veteran won a World Series with the Giants in 2014 and is one of just two players in Tampa Bay's lineup Friday with postseason experience. Tommy Pham was the other player.
"This is the reason you play," Duffy said. "This is -- when you grow up, when you're 7 years old in the yard by yourself, walking through a big situation. Obviously, this isn't the postseason -- that's what we want to get to -- but today's big regardless."
David Wilson is a contributor to MLB.com based in St. Petersburg.