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Can the Rays make the playoffs in 2018?

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Tampa Bay is above .500 — does that put the playoffs in sight?

MLB: Houston Astros at Tampa Bay Rays
Tampa Bay Rays relief pitcher Diego Castillo (63) reacts at the end of the eighth inning to leave bases loaded against the Houston Astros at Tropicana Field
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

With the Rays one game above .500, following a roller coaster first half of the season, what are the team’s odds for making the playoffs in 2018?

The Yankees, Red Sox, Indians, and Astros are great teams that were expected to be the class of the league. They have ran away with the league and the only remaining expected playoff spot is currently being held by the Mariners.

Despite sitting at 54-31 the Mariners have a run differential of +22 that would expect them to be 45-40 based on pythagorean winning percentage. The Mariners are the team likely to get the second wild card, because banked wins matter. Even if the Mariners go .500 the rest of the way they’ll end up with 92-93 wins.

The Rays sit 11 games behind the Mariners, 3 games behind the Oakland Athletics, and are tied with the Angels in the Wild Card race. Dare we start dreaming?

The Rays played a very tough schedule in the first half. Their opponents averaged a winning percentage of .530 or 86 win pace. Despite this they are a game over .500. You play the schedule in front of you, but most of their heavy lifting has been done.

Over the final 79 games of the season the Rays play teams with an average winning percentage of .475, which is a 77-win pace. This gives the Rays the opportunity to finish the year strong. Any team in Major League Baseball can beat another on any given day. The margins just aren’t that big. It’s very possible the Rays don’t take advantage of the situation, but it’s there for the taking.

Using the season-to-date stats, Fangraphs has the Rays finishing with 84.2 wins thanks to this soft schedule. They give the Rays a 12.4% chance of making the playoffs which would place the Rays the first team out of the playoffs, just ahead of the Athletics at 84.1 wins by their projections. The Rays cut a game into the lead of the Mariners who would finish with 94.3 wins.

For those thinking about the division, I too want to live in the universe where the 0.4% outcome of the Rays winning the American League East happens. It would take an absolutely historic run to get there and likely involve significant declines from both the Yankees and Red Sox. However, we’ve probably already received our once in a lifetime post season run when the Red Sox dropped a 9 game lead on September 1, 2011.

Catching the Mariners 11-games lead with 79 to play is more likely to occur than overcoming a 9-game lead with 26 games remaining, but it’s not a probable outcome. For comparison, Baseball Prospectus has the Rays projected to finish with 83.1 wins with a 5.6% chance of making the playoffs.

The Rays could make the post season, but it’d take a minor miracle. Not the kind that gets you a Sainthood, more like the one that makes you Blessed. It’s a long shot.