And breathe... Yandy, Randy, and Isaac are still healthy along with Glasnow, Eflin and Fairbanks. Despite everything that this team has endured over the past six months, they will enter October with 99 wins to their name and a formidable core group of players, even if that core is missing key members such as Brandon Lowe, Shane McClanahan, Wander Franco, and the duo of Rasmussen and Springs.
Sunday afternoon proved to be the end of a trying six months of baseball for a Rays club that got off a historic start only to see star player after star player removed from their active roster. Eventually they would squander their division lead and finish second to an Orioles club that won 101 games and never fell victim to a regular season series sweep (seems as though they might be due for a sweep in October). Nonetheless, what this team accomplished is impressive beyond measure. They lost 60% of their starting rotation for the year due to injury and played most of the second half without their starting shortstop and budding superstar due to legal troubles. They didn't skip a beat and they will now play host to the Texas Rangers in a best-of-three Wildcard Series at the Trop starting Tuesday afternoon.
Sunday’s game perfectly captured how this team got to where they now sit just one day prior to their fifth consecutive postseason appearance. They scored 12 runs without any help from Yandy Diaz (winner of the 2023 AL batting title) or Randy Arozarena who both were given the day off. Instead, the offense was led by the 20-year-old Junior Caminero, who only a little more than a week ago was playing in Double-A, and Jonathon Aranda who had struggled mightily at the Major League Level prior to his 3-5 performance at the dish in the season’s finale. Next man up...it’s the “Rays Way”. The only way you could win 99 games this season is if guys stepped up, and did they ever.
The Rays scored early and often as they quickly jumped out to an 8-0. After two at-bats, Aranda had tallied 5 RBIs thanks in part to a second inning grand slam. Junior Caminero and Josh Lowe also pitched in with a pair of run scoring hits.
The Jays would score three in the bottom of the second to close the Rays lead to just five runs. But, the Rays would answer with a solo shots in the fourth and fifth innings. Margot homered in the fourth and Caminero hit an opposite field blast in the fifth for his first career homerun.
In the sixth Aranda doubled home another run, extending the Rays lead to 11-3.The Jays would get back all three runs in the bottom half of the inning and once again trim the deficit to five. Harold Ramirez promptly doubled home Basabe in the seventh to give the Rays a 12-6 lead.
The Jays would tack on another run in the seventh and eighth innings, but eventually fall by a score of 12-8. The loss paired with an Astros win and Rangers loss, meant that the Blue Jays would no longer travel to Tampa to face the Rays as the #2 WC. Rather, they will head to the Twin Cities to face off agains the AL Central winning Twins.
On the mound, Jacob Lopez tossed the first 5.1 innings, giving the Rays pitching staff some much needed rest. He surrendered six runs, struck out four and walked two. Kelly, Bradley, and Kittredge each got some tune-up work in as well to close out the game. Kelly struck out three in 1.2 innings of work.
The Rays will have Monday off before embarking on their quest to return to the World Series for the first time since 2020.