Nine things to watch for Rays on the end-of-season road trip

CLEVELAND — The Rays left Tropicana Field after Sunday’s regular season final home loss to the Blue Jays in hopes they can return and play in the friendly compound again this season.

They will have to overcome the challenges of a nine-game road trip to Cleveland, Houston and Boston – and potentially beyond.

There are two ways the Rays can play at home again this season:

• Catch up two games behind the Blue Jays for first place in the American League’s three-team wild card field and the chance to host one of the best three-team wild card series at one venue.

• Win the Wild Card Series on the road – in Toronto, Seattle or Cleveland – to advance to the best of five Divisional Series against Houston or New York and set up Games 3 and 4.

“There are a lot of different scenarios that we could end up traveling to after this last day in Boston (October 5),” starter Corey Kluber said before Sunday’s game. “Hopefully it’s back here for a playoff.”

Here are nine things to consider on the end-of-season trip:

Magic number: 5

Although the Rays (84-69) were out on Monday, their position in the race and their bid to clinch a playoff berth — starting the day with a magic number of five — were still on the line. The Blue Jays (86 -67) host the Yankees while the Orioles 79-73, still struggling to get into the three-team group, play Boston. To clinch a playoff berth — in other words, guaranteeing they finish ahead of Baltimore (who they hold the tiebreaker on) — the Rays need a combination of five wins and losses from the Orioles. In other words, if the Rays go 4-5, the Orioles, who next face the Yankees and Jays, will have to finish 10-0 to beat them.

Popping bottles

Kevin Kiermaier celebrates with Tyler Glasnow and the rest of the team at the club house after earning a playoff berth by beating the Blue Jays in 2019. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

Expect the Rays to fully celebrate earning what will be a team-record fourth straight playoff finish and eighth in 15 years. When? Obviously, they can do it on their own and win five games in a row, but assuming that doesn’t happen and they get some help from the Orioles, most likely this weekend in Houston.

Attach one

Under the new postseason format, there is no longer Game 163 to break ties for playoff berths. Tiebreakers based on head-to-head regular season games will be used, and that works to the Rays’ advantage, as they won the season series against the Jays, Mariners and Orioles. If there is a triple tie, the key is the best combined winning percentage against the other two teams. If they have the same records against each other, then that will register in the division matches.

boys at home

Randy Arozarena celebrates his 20th home run of the season against the Blue Jays on Friday.
Randy Arozarena celebrates his 20th home run of the season against the Blue Jays on Friday.
[ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]
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How important is home advantage in the first round? The Rays have the biggest gap at home (51-30) and on the road (33-39) of the four wild card contenders. And not having to extend the already long road trip would be beneficial. Is it enough for them to scramble their playoff pitching plans if they needed to win Game 162 to get it? Probably not.

road warriors

Why are the Rays playing nine straight road games to close out the season? Blame the lockout. According to the original schedule, the Rays were just going to Cleveland and Houston. But when the first week of games was canceled and then rescheduled, the Boston series (which was to be the season opener) was added to the end. The other opening week series, in Toronto, was taken up by earlier trips north, in which they played five games in four days.

rough road

Facing the Guardians, champions of AL Central, and the Astros, champions and seeds of AL West, would seem to make the journey more vexing. But there could be an upside for the Rays in that both teams have clinched their splits and are only playing for potential World Series seeding (where the team with the better record hosts). So they can rest or limit innings/at-bats for some front row players.

Happy to see you again

Corey Kluber spent nine seasons in Cleveland and will pitch for the first time as a visitor to Progressive Field.
Corey Kluber spent nine seasons in Cleveland and will pitch for the first time as a visitor to Progressive Field. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]

Unless potential rain in Cleveland disrupts the plan, Tuesday could be a hectic day. Corey Kluber, who won two Cy Youngs (and finished third with two other teams) during a nine-year career at Cleveland, is pitching for the first time as a visitor to Progressive Field. Infielder Yandy Diaz, who also previously played in Cleveland, is expected to return to the Rays roster for the first time in a week after being sidelined with a sore left shoulder.

Welcome back, part II

On Wednesday, Tyler Glasnow is set to be taken off the injured list and make his first start for the Rays since June 14, 2021, after undergoing Tommy John elbow surgery and the installation of a ligament brace in August 2021. Wait Make sure Glasnow is limited to two or three innings and around 45 pitches.

Cash vs. Tito

Kevin Cash, who played and coached under Terry Francona, takes his friend's needle with his typical good humor.
Kevin Cash, who played and coached under Terry Francona, takes his friend’s needle with his typical good humor. [ MARC TOPKIN | Times ]

Rays manager Kevin Cash considers Guardians manager Terry “Tito” Francona a mentor and close friend, and they often tease, torment and sometimes joke in public when they face off. Cash said it would always be the same, even with how important these games are to the Rays, or in a potential playoff game. “It’s not going to change at all,” he said. “I imagine we’ll talk before the game, we’ll talk after the game, he’ll laugh at me about a stupid decision, and you (the journalists) are all going to laugh.”

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