Rays headed to Cleveland as AL's No. 6 seed

October 5th, 2022

BOSTON -- Last week, the Rays set out on a nine-game, three-city road trip not knowing where it would end. The American League Wild Card race was uncertain enough at that point that it could have taken them back home to Tropicana Field or to Toronto, Seattle or Cleveland.

Nine days after leaving home, they learned their journey will continue where it began: Cleveland. And they hope it’s not their last stop.

After a rain-shortened 6-0 loss to the Red Sox on Tuesday night at Fenway Park, the Rays could officially start making plans for a postseason date with the AL Central champion Guardians.

Tampa Bay’s fourth straight defeat, combined with Seattle’s wild 7-6, 10-inning win over Detroit, put an end to the AL Wild Card uncertainty. The Rays will be the league’s No. 6 seed, and after finishing the regular season Wednesday afternoon in Boston, they will head to Progressive Field for a best-of-three Wild Card Series against the Guardians beginning Friday.

“It's going to be a really good series,” Harold Ramírez said. “They have a good team, like we are. We just have to go there, compete and be the best.”

If the Rays beat the Guardians twice, they will face the Yankees in the AL Division Series -- starting with two games at Yankee Stadium that would extend the Rays’ stint on the road to 18 consecutive days. The Mariners will be the AL’s No. 5 seed, traveling to Toronto to face the Blue Jays in a best-of-three Wild Card Series; the winner of that matchup will face the top-seeded Astros in the ALDS.

Standings update: 86-75 (third AL Wild Card spot)
Games remaining: 1
AL Wild Card: The Blue Jays (91-69) have secured the first bid, the Mariners (88-72, also playing late Tuesday night) will be the AL’s No. 5 seed, and the Rays are locked into the final spot in the field

The Rays lost four of their six games against the Guardians this year, scoring only 18 runs in the season series while allowing 22. When they met last week, all three games in the series were decided by one run -- a 6-5 win followed by a pair of 2-1 losses.

Expect similarly tight games when they reunite for the Wild Card Series.

“They make a lot of contact. They run well. They're aggressive on the bases. They play good defense. And they have good arms. I think that's almost identical to our team,” Rays infielder Taylor Walls said. “I think offensively, we're probably a little more on the power side than the contact side compared to them, but it'll be a good matchup.”

Beyond just their recent games, the Rays have some shared history with the Guardians. Manager Kevin Cash and bench coach Matt Quatraro were coaches on Cleveland manager Terry Francona’s staff. Corey Kluber, Yandy Díaz, Francisco Mejía, Shawn Armstrong and Ramírez all played there.

“I give them a ton of credit. Obviously, we all know the respect and admiration that I have for that entire organization, with Tito,” Cash said. “They do a very good job. … They're playing good baseball. We've got a very challenging task ahead of us.”

The Rays believe they’re up to it, though, even after stumbling toward the regular season’s finish line.

Tuesday was their fourth straight loss, and their 17th in the past 25 games, and it dropped them to 1-6-1 in series play since Sept. 9. They’ve scored one run or fewer in seven of their past 10 games, including two games against the Guardians.

“Hopefully, we can do our part and get back on track. We've been losing a lot of games lately, all close games,” catcher Christian Bethancourt said. “I think our offense has to wake up a little bit, and I think we'll be fine.”

The Rays also lost reliever Colin Poche for the rest of the year on Tuesday. After allowing a grand slam to Xander Bogaerts in the fifth inning, the lefty exited due to a right oblique strain. Four batters later, reliever Brooks Raley slipped on first base while trying to make a play, and the game entered a rain delay shortly after that.

Fifty-two minutes later, not long after the Mariners sent catcher Luis Torrens to the mound in the 10th inning but somehow still beat the Tigers in Seattle, the game was called, the Wild Card race ended and the Rays could officially start looking ahead to Cleveland.

“It'll be a good environment. I guess it's good we kind of got to adapt to the cold weather a little bit -- and the rain, I guess,” Walls said. “We're excited to play in the postseason. This is kind of what you play for. I know the guys are amped up, so yeah, we're ready to be there.”