The Tampa Bay Rays have won the American League East, but their playoff seeding is still up in the air. The Rays could reasonably end up anywhere between the first and third seeds. The good news is the Rays would get to be the home team for the entire three game series no matter what.
The Rays hold a 2.0 game lead over the Minnesota Twins and 2.5 games over the Oakland Athletics for the number one seed. The Rays hold the tie breaker over the Twins so one win by the Rays or one loss by the Twins puts the Rays ahead.
The situation is murkier with Oakland. The Athletics could win the tie breaker if they win all four remaining games against the Seattle Mariners forcing the Rays to win of their two remaining games to end above them in the standings. However if the Mariners win one game the Rays would hold the tie breaker so the Rays wouldn’t even need to win another game to end up ahead of the Athletics even if they win 3 of 4 against the Mariners.
So the Rays are favorites to win the number one seed and most likely face the Toronto Blue Jays in the first round.
For the Philadelphia Phillies this series is very important, so don’t expect them to be horsing around.
Presently the Phillies are on the outside looking in sitting at 28-29 and the first team outside the playoffs in the National League a half game behind the San Francisco Giants. Only four teams are locked into the playoffs in the National League heading into the final weekend with 6 teams separated by a maximum of two games.
The Phillies might need to sweep the Rays to get in, so the Rays are going to get their best shot.
Friday 6:40 PM: Vince Velasquez vs Charlie Morton
Saturday 7:07 PM: Zack Wheeler vs Ryan Yarbrough
Sunday 3:10 PM: Aaron Nola vs Josh Fleming
Starters are subject to change as I’m sure the Phillies would prefer to have Nola — their best in show — available for game one of their playoff series, but they have to get there first.
Vince Velasquez has struck out 30.3% of hitters, but his problem has lied in the 11.4% walk rate. In 29.2 innings he’s posted a 5.46 ERA/4.40 FIP/4.15 xFIP. He’s coming off one of his best starts of the year holding the Blue Jays to one run over 6.0 innings.
Zack Wheeler has had a peculiar season. His 2.67 ERA/3.23 FIP/3.80 xFIP are very good. He’s gotten by with a 54.9% groundball rate and miniscule 7.7% HR/FB rate. His 17.5% strikeout rate is over 5% lower than it has been for the majority of his career, but he also has limited walks with a 4.7% walk rate. His swinging strike rate is in line with his last two years with the New York Mets, so I’m not exactly sure why he hasn’t gotten the strikeouts he’s accustomed to getting.
Aaron Nola has regressed since his 2018 Cy Young Award caliber season. This year his strikeouts (33.5%) have skyrocketed while limiting walks (7.4%). This has led to a 3.06 ERA/3.23 FIP/2.75 xFIP over 67.2 innings. He’s far and away their best pitcher and if the Phillies have a playoff spot locked up by Sunday then it’s very unlikely we’ll see him on the mound.
Morton might be on a short leash as the Rays look to just get him his final reps before the first round of the playoffs. Yarbrough and Fleming could follow Openers as they prepare for a possible bullpen role in the post season.
You might note Tyler Glasnow, the mini horse, is not pitching in this series. That’s because he’ll be pitching in the playoffs instead. That’s better!
Phillies boast a potent offense.
As a team the Phillies have hit .257/.345/.446 and put up a 111 wRC+. The offense is good but they’ve been done in by a very bad defense (-32 DRS, -10.1 UZR) that ranks in the bottom three of the league by both major defensive metrics.
Bryce Harper leads the way with 13 homers and a 146 wRC+ in his second season in Philadelphia. JT Realmuto is the best hitting catcher in the game with a 132 wRC+. Didi Gregorius has had a nice bounceback season hitting 122 wRC+.
Rhys Hoskins is out for the remainder of the season.
Alec Bohm has had a very hit very well (139 wRC+) in his first taste of major league action.
Scott Kingery continues to struggle with a 33 wRC+ after signing a contract extension similar to Brandon Lowe’s last spring.
Recently the Phillies called up the former overall number one pick Mickey Moniak.
The Phillies have far more to play for than the Rays.
For the Rays the focus has been the American League East title over the last few weeks.
Having already locked that in after Wednesday’s victory there isn’t a ton to play for, so expect them to try players at new positions and other different ideas as they test a couple concepts in the final days. I’m sure they would like to have the number one seed, but since there is no real home field advantage past the first round it’s less important than it typically is.
Win this series and the Rays lock up the number one seed. That would be nice, but the most important thing is staying as healthy as you can.
Next week this get serious as the Rays begin the race for their first World Series Championship in franchise history.