Let’s take a look at some postseason-related questions surrounding the Rays after the club clinched the No. 1 seed in the American League with an A's loss to the Mariners on Saturday.
What could the postseason roster look like?
SP: Blake Snell, Charlie Morton, Tyler Glasnow, Ryan Yarbrough, Josh Fleming
RP: Nick Anderson, Diego Castillo, Oliver Drake, Pete Fairbanks, Ryan Thompson, John Curtiss, Aaron Loup, Aaron Slegers, Ryan Sherriff
C: Mike Zunino, Michael Perez
1B: Nate Lowe, Mike Brosseau
2B: Brandon Lowe, Joey Wendle
SS: Willy Adames
3B: Yandy Díaz
LF: Yoshi Tsutsugo, Randy Arozarena
CF: Kevin Kiermaier, Manuel Margot, Brett Phillips
RF: Hunter Renfroe
Could this roster change?
Absolutely, and a lot of it depends on health. Ji-Man Choi, Díaz and José Alvarado are all on the injured list, but the club believes there’s still a chance for all three of them to be ready for the postseason. Díaz’s recovery from a right hamstring strain has been the lengthiest, but his two-homer performance in the American League Wild Card Game last season proves that he doesn’t need many at-bats to be ready to hit. The injury to Austin Meadows opens the door for Brett Phillips to make the roster and make an impact as a defensive replacement and a pinch-runner.
Will they go with a five-man rotation?
The Rays will go with Snell, Glasnow and Morton as the top three starters for the Wild Card Series. If the Rays get past the Wild Card Series, Fleming and Yarbrough are the likely candidates to give the Rays length in the AL Division Series. The club, however, has begun utilizing the opener strategy again, using it once with Yarbrough and twice with Fleming.
Now that the Rays have locked up the AL East and home-field advantage in the Wild Card Series, the ultimate goal over the next week will be to get Díaz, Choi and Alvarado healthy and keep the pitching staff fresh heading into the postseason.
With the Rays clinching the No. 1 seed in the AL they are officially set for a Wild Card Series matchup against the No. 8 seed, which is not locked in yet.
What is the Wild Card round schedule? Where will it be played?
Game 1 is set for Tuesday, with Games 2 and 3 (if necessary) following on Wednesday and Thursday, Oct. 1. With the top overall seed secured, Tampa Bay will host all three games at Tropicana Field.
Who could the Rays play in the first round?
By winning the AL East and clinching the top seed, the only possible opponents for the Rays are two division rivals: Yankees or Blue Jays.
The Rays won the season series against both teams, going 6-4 against Toronto and 8-2 against New York. Against Toronto, however, Tampa Bay was outscored, 48-44, over the 10 games, making the Blue Jays a tricky matchup.
Hyun Jin Ryu would appear to be the logical Game 1 starter for Toronto, and the left-hander allowed four runs and struck out 10 over 9 2/3 innings against the Rays this season. Snell, who is the Game 1 starter for the Rays, allowed two runs and struck out 14 in two starts against Toronto. Snell has a 2.81 ERA in 13 career starts against the Blue Jays.
Glasnow, the Game 2 starter, has not faced the Blue Jays’ lineup this season, which could be an advantage for the Rays. He has, however, struggled against the Blue Jays throughout his career, posting a 6.17 ERA in six career starts against Toronto.
Aaron Loup, who has been an integral part of the Rays’ bullpen this season, has struggled against the Blue Jays this season and has a 6.14 ERA in seven appearances.
If the Rays have to play the Yankees, it would be a battle of the last two AL East winners. Gerrit Cole would get Game 1 for the Yankees, while Masahiro Tanaka would likely be the pick for Game 2.
Cole dominated the Rays during the postseason as a member of the Astros last October, but the right-hander has not fared well against Tampa Bay this season. Cole is 0-1 with a 4.96 ERA in three starts this season. The Rays are the only team that Cole faced more than once and did not record a win against.
Who are breakout candidates?
For the Rays to get deep in the playoffs, they’ll need their top players to lead the way. However, Randy Arozarena and Nate Lowe could be the two keys to the team. Arozarena hit seven home runs in his first 54 at-bats this season and will be a big weapon for the Rays in the outfield, in the batter’s box, and on the basepaths.
Lowe, who will likely continue filling in for Choi, will get the bulk of the opportunities at first base and will hit in the middle of the lineup. If the Rays can get sizable production out of Arozarena and Lowe, the club has a chance to make a World Series run.