ST. PETERSBURG -- The Rays have officially secured a spot in the postseason for the third straight season, the franchise’s longest streak of consecutive playoff appearances. They’ve locked up their second straight American League East title. And the final week of the season, they secured both the AL’s best record and the winningest regular season in team history. Now comes another postseason run for the franchise’s first World Series championship.
What could the postseason roster look like?
This could change a bit depending on who’s healthy and, above all, what they decide to do with their pitching, but let’s take a shot at a potential 26-man roster.
C: Mike Zunino, Francisco Mejía
1B: Ji-Man Choi, Jordan Luplow
2B: Brandon Lowe
SS: Wander Franco
3B: Joey Wendle, Yandy Díaz
OF: Randy Arozarena, Austin Meadows, Kevin Kiermaier, Manuel Margot, Brett Phillips
DH: Nelson Cruz
SP: Shane McClanahan, Drew Rasmussen, Shane Baz
RP: Andrew Kittredge, Pete Fairbanks, J.P. Feyereisen, David Robertson, JT Chargois, Collin McHugh, Matt Wisler, Josh Fleming, Luis Patiño
Who do they face in the first round?
The Red Sox, who won the AL Wild Card Game over the Yankees, 6-2, at Fenway Park.
How do the Rays match up with the Red Sox?
The Rays won their season series against the Red Sox, 11-8, but the run differential was much closer: 106-104. Still, Tampa Bay has proven its ability to beat Boston, and the Red Sox have burned top-end starter Nathan Eovaldi in the AL Wild Card Game to reach the ALDS.
When does the postseason begin?
The ALDS round begins Thursday, Oct. 7. Game 2 will take place on Oct. 8, Game 3 on Oct. 10, Game 4 (if necessary) on Oct. 11 and Game 5 (if necessary) on Oct. 13.
The AL Championship Series will begin on Oct. 15, and World Series Game 1 is scheduled for Oct. 26.
What are their injuries to monitor?
Righty Nick Anderson (low back strain) is on the 10-day IL and won’t pitch in a game until the postseason begins, if he’s deemed ready for the ALDS after facing hitters in live batting practice Tuesday at Tropicana Field. Additionally, they’ll be without reliable lefty reliever Adam Conley in at least the ALDS, as he’s sidelined following a positive COVID-19 test.
There’s at least a slim chance that lefty reliever Cody Reed, who’s quickly worked his way back from thoracic outlet syndrome surgery, could make himself an option in the postseason. He finished the season with Triple-A Durham.
Now, take a deep breath and read off all the Rays pitchers who are on the 60-day IL and out for the postseason: Chris Archer, Jalen Beeks, Yonny Chirinos, Oliver Drake, Tyler Glasnow, Tommy Hunter, DJ Johnson, Colin Poche, Chaz Roe, Jeffrey Springs and Ryan Thompson.
What would the postseason rotation look like?
Shane McClanahan will start Game 1 of the ALDS. Shane Baz will start Game 2. Drew Rasmussen is “highly likely” to start Game 3, although that could change if he pitches out of the bullpen in Games 1 or 2.
It seems Luis Patiño is ticketed for more of a bulk-inning/multi-inning relief role, the role he assumed in a couple two-inning outings the final week of the regular season, or perhaps to open if the Rays opt for a bullpen game at any point. The 21-year-old righty has been more effective against right-handed hitters than lefties, so his usage could be more matchup-dependent.
The Rays have limited most of their young starters to five innings per outing during the regular season, but it’s possible they could loosen the leash a bit in October with talented arms like McClanahan, Rasmussen and Baz. Still, they have a deep bullpen -- with a benefit of postseason off-days -- to handle whatever’s needed.
This rotation leaves out two of the Rays’ innings and starts leaders this season: Ryan Yarbrough and Michael Wacha. They’re tremendous teammates who are finishing the season strong after some tough stretches, so maybe one or both could carve out a spot in a bulk/multi-inning relief role, or return for a starting role if they advance to the ALCS.
What are the toughest roster decisions?
In the hypothetical roster above, right-handed-hitting Jordan Luplow is probably the position player most on the bubble. The Rays played the last week without him, but he could be valuable against lefty starters or relievers. That roster also leaves off slick-fielding Taylor Walls, an ideal defensive replacement in the infield if the rosters were larger.
The pitchers present their own challenges. Once the Rays get past Patiño and the obvious high-leverage arms -- Andrew Kittredge, Collin McHugh, Pete Fairbanks, David Robertson, JT Chargois, J.P. Feyereisen and Matt Wisler -- how will they decide which relievers to take? Health will play a big part, but there are compelling cases for Anderson, Josh Fleming, Dietrich Enns, Louis Head, Ryan Sherriff, the surplus starters (particularly Michael Wacha) and others.