Can the Rays see the playoffs from here?

by Gary Shelton on July 15, 2021

in general

Can Cash get his team to the post-season?/JEFFREY S. KING

Thursday, 4 a.m.

The hitting will continue to be ordinary. Oh, there are times that they can hit, and the Tampa Bay Rays look pretty good. But there are nights when they seem to be in blindfolds, swinging at a pinata. Those are the Tampa Bay Rays at the bat -- a swing and a prayer.

The pitching will continue to be patchwork. Manager Kevin Cash will continue to befuddle you by taking out starting pitchers after five innings, as if they are milk and the expiration date has passed.

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The defense will still be pretty good. Not perfect, mind you, but the Rays will remain fleet in the outfield and solid on the infield. That'll win them some games, too.

Overall, the team will continue to be a streaky one, capable of dizzying heights and gut-wrenching losses. They can lose five straight, then win 11 straight, then lose five more straight.

The Rays currently have the first Wild Card spot, holding a two-game lead over the Athletics. The Rays hold a 3 1⁄2-game lead over the Mariners in regard to a postseason berth.

But overall, what kind of chance do the Rays have to make a post-season run in 2021?

Hey, brains don't slump, and the Rays, once again, are playing chess while the rest of the world is playing checkers. They excel at matchups -- no, those don't always work out -- and they do the little things well. If you look around the American League East, hey, everyone has flaws.

But are the Rays good enough to catch the Boston Red Sox (who they trail by 1 1/2 games? Are they good enough to hold off the Blue Jays and the Yankees, who are capable of homering their way back into contention?

We'll see.

But let's look at the race:

Pitching: Without Tyler Glasnow (injured), the team doesn't have a sure-fire stopper. Josh Fleming (seven wins) has done well, but the Rays seem to regard him more as a bulk guy Tham a starter. They seem intent on saving Rich Hill's arm. No one seems to totally trust Ryan Yarbrough.

Where that leaves the team is in its bullpen. Andrew Kittredge and Collin McHugh have been stars. Ryan Thompson has had his moments. But the team will try to match-up its way into the most crucial months of the season.

Give the Rays' credit for this. They have fortified the pen pretty well during the season, adding J.P. Feyereisen, Drew Rasmussen and Michael Wisler.

Hitting: There are too many holes in the batting order. Everyone knows that. Brandon Lowe's average is embarrassing, and Mike Zunino's is worse. The team hoped to get a charge out of youngsters Wander Franco and Vidal Brujan, but they've both sputtered.

There are games when the Rays are just flailing. They strike out far too much, and the hitting with runners in scoring position is embarrassing. They can beat up on bad pitching, but the other kind leaves them stumped on too many nights.

At catcher, Zunino continues to be a boom-or-bust hitter. He has 19 homers, but he's hitting just .198.

Defense: Rookie Tyler Walls has been superb at shortstop, and an outfield that features Kevin Kiermaier, Brett Phillips, Manuel Margot and Randy Arozarena is pitcher-friendly. Still, outfielders have to play on this side of the fence.

So where does that leave us? It appears to lead us to team that will go into the final week of the of the season with a chance to keep playing and with the risk of going home. The Rays' path is not lit by stardom. This team will have to grind to the end.

The Rays will continue to play close games (25 so far). They'll have to continue to take those "how did they win that?" competition. They have to try to hang on in extra-inning games (they're 3-9 so far).

Hot streaks will be important. Consider his: The team was 22-8 in May, but it has losing records in both April and June.

In the end, it'll be close. It'll come down to whether their starters can go five innings instead of four, whether their hitters can score four runs instead of three, whether the bullpen can throw zeroes or falter with the game on the line.

Me? I say they get in.

I say they fall short of the World Series.

Then again, what do I know?

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