What comes next? Rays postseason FAQ

October 5th, 2022

HOUSTON -- For the fourth straight year, the Rays will be playing postseason baseball.

The Rays clinched a spot in the playoffs on the final Friday of the regular season, securing one of the three American League Wild Card spots. On Tuesday, they finally learned they will begin postseason play as the AL’s No. 6 seed in Cleveland, facing the Guardians in a best-of-three Wild Card Series at Progressive Field.

Unlike last year, this season wasn’t a 100-win romp through the summer for the Rays. They had to withstand a seemingly endless stream of injuries. Their lineup was inconsistent. Their pitching staff evolved over time. Yet here they are, back in the postseason again.

"It's the opportunity to keep playing. It's the opportunity to win a World Series," president of baseball operations Erik Neander said. "We've had some good clubs. This has not been our best regular season, but it gives us a chance to flip the script and make it our best postseason."

Who is the first-round matchup?
The Rays will face the AL Central champion Guardians in the Wild Card Series, while the No. 4-seeded Blue Jays host the No. 5 Mariners in Toronto.

The Rays lost four of six games against the Guardians this year, going 1-2 in a trio of one-run games at Progressive Field to begin their season-ending road trip. In their season series, the Rays allowed only 22 runs but scored just 18.

They are similar in some ways, both smaller-market clubs full of young players and both built on their pitching and defense, with plenty of connections.

Manager Kevin Cash was Cleveland’s bullpen coach before taking over with Tampa Bay, and he’s a close friend -- and prank rival -- of Guardians manager Terry Francona. Francona is the longest-tenured manager in the Majors with his current team, and Cash is second.

Rays starter Corey Kluber spent nine seasons with Cleveland and won a pair of AL Cy Young Awards there. Yandy Díaz and Harold Ramírez previously played for Cleveland, as did Francisco Mejía and Shawn Armstrong. Bench coach Matt Quatraro served as an assistant hitting coach on Francona’s staff from 2014-17.

These two clubs met once before in the postseason, when the Rays beat Cleveland, 4-0, in the 2013 AL Wild Card Game at Progressive Field.

What about home-field advantage?
The Rays won't have it at any point in the postseason.

That means the Rays, who went 51-30 at Tropicana Field this year, will have to win their Wild Card Series just to secure a postseason home game -- and the first one wouldn’t come until Game 3 of the ALDS against the Yankees.

What could the postseason roster look like?
Here’s one projection…

C: Francisco Mejía, Christian Bethancourt
1B: Ji-Man Choi, Harold Ramírez
2B: Isaac Paredes, Jonathan Aranda
SS: Wander Franco
3B: Yandy Díaz
UTL: Taylor Walls (SS/2B/3B)
OF: Randy Arozarena, Jose Siri, Manuel Margot, David Peralta
SP: Shane McClanahan, Tyler Glasnow, Drew Rasmussen, Jeffrey Springs, Corey Kluber
RP: Pete Fairbanks, Jason Adam, Brooks Raley, Jalen Beeks, JT Chargois, Shawn Armstrong, Garrett Cleavinger, Javy Guerra

How could the roster change?
The position player group seems straightforward, if everyone remains healthy. Maybe the versatile Vidal Bruján cracks the team as a pinch-running option. But it seems more likely the Rays would prioritize a hitter like Aranda and a defender like Walls, who is pretty good on the bases in his own right.

The Rays obviously wouldn’t use five starters in a seven-game Championship Series, much less a five-game Division Series or a best-of-three Wild Card Series. But it always helps to have an extra long man if a starter gets hurt, a game goes long or a game gets out of hand. And it’s possible they could pair two starters, perhaps the lefty Springs with Glasnow or Rasmussen, to cover most of a game together. Javy Guerra is another bullpen option, if the Rays prioritize matchups over innings.

Who’s unavailable due to injuries?
Beeks is on the IL but expected to return for the postseason, which is especially important after the Rays lost lefty reliever Colin Poche to a right oblique strain on Tuesday. Poche joined a long list of important players already done for the year.

Start with three of their most recognizable position players: slugging second baseman Brandon Lowe, elite defensive center fielder Kevin Kiermaier and All-Star catcher Mike Zunino. The Rays also have a bunch of key arms out due to injuries, from starters Shane Baz and Ryan Yarbrough to former high-leverage relievers Nick Anderson, Andrew Kittredge, J.P. Feyereisen and Ryan Thompson.

What does the rotation look like for the Wild Card Series?
McClanahan will be lined up to start the first game of the series on five days’ rest, and Glasnow is poised to start Game 2 on normal rest. The Rays haven't stated their plans for a potential Game 3, but just about everybody else should be available if their season's on the line.

Who is eligible for the postseason roster?
Everyone who has been in Tampa Bay’s organization since Aug. 31 and has been on either the 40-man roster or the injured list is automatically in the playoff eligibility pool. The only other way a player can become eligible is if they are replacing an injured player and have been in the organization since at least Aug. 31.

What is the Rays’ recent postseason history?
The Rays have lost in the ALDS twice in the past four years. They fell to the Astros in five games in 2019 and to the Red Sox in four games last season. In 2020, they took the champion Dodgers to Game 6 of the World Series.

This is the eighth time in the last 15 years the Rays have made the postseason, and they extended their franchise record with a fourth consecutive postseason berth. (Only four other clubs have reached the playoffs at least eight times since 2008: the Dodgers, Yankees, Cardinals and Braves.) They are seeking their third AL pennant and their first World Series championship.