Entering June the Tampa Bay Rays were in a good spot. They were 35-21. They were 2.5 games behind the Yankees and 6.5 games ahead of the Red Sox in the American League East race.
Then came June. The Rays went 13-16.
The Rays didn’t play their best and they faced their toughest stretch of games they’ll have to go through this season. The 29 games this month were against a team with a .542 (88 win pace) average win percentage. Only the three game series in Detroit was against a truly bad team. The worst of the rest were the Los Angeles Angels who are only one game under .500. The other 22 were against teams above .500.
For the most part this year the Rays have done their job. Split the games against the teams above .500 and feast on those below .500. The Rays are 25-26 against teams above .500 and 24-10 against those below .500. There are only three teams that have records better than one game above .500 against the teams above .500 (Los Angeles Dodgers, Houston Astros, and New York Yankees). The Minnesota Twins (37-15) are the only team that has done better against those below .500.
What’s done is done and the Rays need to play better, but playing against lesser competition should help them get on a roll.
Importance of July
The Rays absolutely can’t afford to fall any further back of the Yankees and have any reasonable expectations of being able to catch them. The good news and the bad news is the Rays play the Yankees eight times in the next two weeks.
Overall, though, the Rays have a soft schedule in July with a 0.479 winning percentage (77.5 win pace) average opponent. But that doesn’t mean the schedule is only soft.
As previously mentioned they have eight games against the Yankees and they end the month with five of their final eight games heading into the trade deadline against the Boston Red Sox. They play the Baltimore Orioles seven times, Chicago White Sox three times, and the Toronto Blue Jays three times to round out the schedule.
With a 6-3 victory on Monday night the Rays have already gotten off to the start they needed.
The games against the Yankees and Red Sox will be of utmost importance, but they also need to continue taking care of business against the weaker teams.
After the Trade Deadline
Once the calendar flips to August and all teams have made their additions and subtractions for a final push the schedule is very favorable for the Rays.
The final 52 games the Rays face teams with an average winning percentage of .451 (73 win pace). Only 21 of those come against teams currently with winning records. The Yankees conversely play 31 of their final 55 against teams with winning records.
The downside is the Rays and Yankees only face off twice, so unless they make a major dent over the next couple weeks they will likely rely on help to chase them down. However if they are close the schedule advantage could give the Rays an opening.
The Rays have a lot of work to do, but they’ve put themselves in a good spot despite the recent slide. They are 2.5 games up on the second wild card. The playoff projection systems still like the Rays chances with FanGraphs at 77.7%, Baseball Prospectus at 86.9%, Baseball Reference at 93.2% of making the playoffs.
It’s looking more probable that they will have to face a one game wild card game, but there is still time to chase down the Yankees. They just can’t afford many missteps as they head into the trade deadline.