After losing six of seven against the Orioles and Yankees two weeks ago, the Rays looked like they were bottoming out hardcore. They weren't hitting, their pitching was mediocre, and they weren't playing like they wanted to make it into the postseason. After they then dropped the first two games against the Red Sox last week, I think many of us threw in the towel; it's one thing to remain hopeful, but it's another to unrealistically cling to the improbable.
Since then, the Rays have surprised us all by looking like an entirely different team: they have won five in a row, and they've averaged nine runs per game over that stretch. The offense has been firing on all cylinders, and now that they've climbed within 3.5 games of the final Wild Card spot, the playoffs don't seem that improbable anymore...right?
Well, that's only somewhat true:
Technically, the Rays have improved their playoff odds over the last five days: they now have a 10% chance of making it, as opposed to a 4% chance! The Rays dug themselves into a big hole when they lost that series to the Yankees, and now digging their way out of it is not easy at all.
The Rays' fate is out of their hands; they have to be nearly perfect down the stretch, and they have to hope that at least one or two teams tanks over the remaining nine games. Because as great as it is that the Rays finish the season with three games against the Orioles, the Angels and Athletics are also ahead of the Rays in the Wild Card race now. In fact, it now seems likely that if the Rays sweep the Orioles to finish the season, the end result wouldn't be that the Rays would make the postseason, but that both the O's and Rays would miss out.
The Rays' elimination number for the Wild Card is now seven. It was eight going into yesterday, but at this point, every day that the Rays don't make up ground is a point against them. Their fate is out of their hands, and a comeback at this point in the season would require something potentially even more miraculous and improbable than what happened last year.
Of course, that's not to say we should give up on this team. Let's keep hope alive as long as we can, and ride this train out to the end. But let's also keep our expectations in check, as otherwise, we won't be able to fully appreciate the magnitude of the Rays' comeback when it happens.