The Tampa Bay Rays enjoyed 21-6 month of August bringing them to 84-46. Their hot August was tied with the Los Angeles Dodgers for tops in the majors, and their overall record puts them on par with the San Francisco Giants, also with a .636 winning percentage.
With 132 games in the books, the Rays have a 6.0 game lead over the Houston Astros for home field in the American League and an 8.0 game lead over the New York Yankees in the American League East.
It would be tough to find yourself in a better position than the Rays currently find themselves. However there are still 30 games to play and the Rays cannot afford to let the foot off the gas pedal.
The Rays have opened up a sizable lead in the American League. It looks like the three division leaders should have an easy path to wrapping up the division in the coming weeks. If they do fall out of the division lead it would be difficult to see them falling out of a playoff spot. The teams battling for the two Wild Cards are bunched up and it should be an exciting finish to see who will earn the spot in that winner take all game.
FG DC is based on FanGraphs Depth Charts projection using their projected playing time based on Steamer and ZiPS projections. FG STD is FanGraphs projections using Season-To-Date stats to project out the rest of the season. PECOTA can be found at Baseball Prospectus using their PECOTA projection system. BREF can be found at Baseball Reference and uses Season-To-Date stats over the last 100 games played by he team to project out the rest of the season. COIN FLIP can be found at FanGraphs and projects the rest of the season giving every team a 50/50 chance of winning a game.
The three division leads look to have strangleholds on a playoff spot. No matter which method you use the Rays, White Sox, and Astros have 97%+ chances of making the playoffs. If any of these teams fail it will take a collapse reminiscent of the 2011 Red Sox. Until every team is mathematically eliminated you can’t afford to take things for granted. Despite the near lock of the playoff all three teams have bigger prizes they are looking to lock down.
Thanks to a 13 game winning streak the Yankees have jumped from outside the playoffs to having a firm grasp of the first Wild Card.
When you look beyond the top four teams the race get very interesting. At the beginning of August things just started to fall apart for the Red Sox as a 1.5 game lead in the division turned into a 1.5 game deficit to the Rays thanks to a sweep at Tropicana Field. Going 12-16 has left them hanging on to the second Wild Card for dear life.
The Red Sox are favorites over the Athletics by every projection system. But the lead is anywhere from 55/45 to 75/25 depending on the system. This is the most likely race that will come down to the wire in the American League.
The Toronto Blue Jays and Seattle Mariners find themselves as long shots with some reasonable chance to get in if nearly everything goes their way. The Blue Jays have been one of the best teams in the game by run differential. Their run differential currently sits at +116 and is the fourth best in the American League trailing only the three division leaders. They could go on a run and close the 4.5 game deficit. The Mariners in contrast should feel fortunate to be in the situation they are in. Their -57 run differential is ninth best in the American League and around 100 runs less than the other teams they are trying to beat out for the second Wild Card. However they are only 3.5 games back.
A month ago the race was tight and the Rays would have been happy with any playoff spot. Now the standings look far different. The Rays are playing very well and have opened up a very large lead. Now ending up in the Wild Card game would seem like a big let down. Their 8.0 game lead over the Yankees is not much smaller than the 9.5 game deficit the Rays overcame in September 2011, so nothing should be assumed even though they are in a comfortable spot.
The Rays are in a great spot, with a 90%+ chance to win the division by most of the methods. The Yankees still have a shot. They find themselves 8.0 games behind the Rays thanks to a four game losing streak. If the lead is 3.0 or less entering that final series of course it’s anyone’s division to win. The goal for the Rays should be to take care of business and make sure that scenario isn’t in play.
The two losses to start off this series against the Rays have extinguished almost all remaining hope the Red Sox had of taking home the division title. Over the next week the Rays will have an opportunity to put those odds even closer to zero.
The Blue Jays just have too much ground to make up. Even if they won out and went 31-0 in their remaining games they would end up 100-69. It would only take the Rays going 16-14 to match that total.
The Final 30 Games
The Major League Baseball season is a marathon. The Rays have done the hard work and banked enough wins to put themselves in the position that it won’t take a great finish to win the division.
Players will get days off and the pitchers will get a little more rest than they have been accustomed to as they prepare for another October run. They have earned that, but if they are in the game they have to keep putting their best effort on the field. If the effort is there the Rays will end up where they want.