The September slump has limited the Rays to only four wins over the last seventeen games, dropping the team to only 12 games over .500 -- a record of 78-66 with 18 games left to play.
If you magic number for post-season contention is what it took last year (91 wins -- the Rays had 90 and missed out to Baltimore), the Rays need to win 13 of the upcoming 18 games to reach that mark.
Luckily, the standings are more even keel than that:
Texas 81 64 --
Tampa Bay 78 66 --
New York 78 68 1
Cleveland 77 68 1.5
Baltimore 77 68 1.5
Kansas City 77 69 2
The Rays are 9.5 games behind the Red Sox with one game remaining. The hope of another September collapse for Boston is not worth dwelling on, so we are faced with the likely scenario of hunting a Wild Card seed.
After a three game set in Minnesota, the Rays will host Texas for four games, Baltimore for four games, and play three in New York before ending the season with three in Toronto. Tampa Bay has an opportunity to distance itself from the Rangers, Yankees, and Orioles over the next two weeks, and it will be crucial to post season contention.
As Dave Cameron noted yesterday, the easiest road to the Wild Card will be Cleveland's, who play only one team above .500 this season: three games in Kansas City.
The AL East, on the other hand, is about to go DEFCON:
|Tampa Bay||Baltimore||New York|
|vs BOS (1)||vs NYY (1)||at BAL (1)|
|at MIN (3)||at TOR (3)||at BOS (3)|
|vs TEX (4)||at BOS (3)||at TOR (3)|
|vs BAL (4)||at TBR (4)||vs SFG (3)|
|at NYY (3)||vs TOR (3)||vs TBR (3)|
|at TOR (3)||vs BOS (3)||at HOU (3)|
Somehow, the Yankees arrive at the easiest schedule down the stretch between the three ALE-WC contenders, and Baltimore never leaves the division. With all this in-fighting, we could actually see KC and CLE take the two slots while no one was looking, but the clear loser in strength of schedule is clearly the Fighting Showalters.
Fangraph's Playoff Odds spin a similar thread in regards to the Orioles falling back -- and that the Rays have a 0% chance of catching Boston -- but believes Cleveland's breezy September schedule will not be enough to grant a playoff appearance:
Furthermore, the difference between the Rays and Yankees is projected as one win, and the odds of even making the playoffs is a resoundingly confident 46.3%.
The Rays have to start winning, that much is plain, but how much? The concern is no longer winning within a division, it's simply wins. And we can take them from anywhere.
Based on the playoff projection above, let's say the new magic number is 88 wins. For the Rays, that means winning 10 of the next 18 games. In more tangible terms, the Rays could lose again tonight, and then take two games from each of the remaining series and reach that mark.
So pick and choose your wins. I think it's possible.