Sunday marks the last day of the 60-game regular season, and with it, one of the strangest campaigns in baseball history. Aside from COVID-19 and the political strife that has made America a powder keg ready to explode, the Tampa Bay Rays have dealt with injuries, other teams literally throwing at their heads (side note: how the fuck has Aroldis Chapman not served his three-game suspension yet?!), an all left-handed-hitting lineup, 12 different players notching saves, an astronomically high strikeout rate in the month of September (31.3% K%), and a 14-5 record in one-run games which is tops in all of baseball. The Rays have already clinched the top seed in the American League playoffs. The only questions remaining are whether they will earn their 40th win, and consequently the mark of the Devil Ray — a .666 winning percentage (WP%) — and who they will play in the opening round. With a win, Tampa Bay would tie for the best 60-game mark at any point in any season in team history.
Tampa Bay enters play with a 39-20 (19 games over .500) record. They are guaranteed to finish with the best WP% in team history, exceeding the .599 mark by the 2008 “worst-to-first” pennant winners. Their current record extrapolates to a dominant 107-55 over a 162 game season. Meanwhile, 20 of the Rays 39 wins are of the come from behind variety, most in the American League. What’s more, Kevin Cash now has the best WP% of any manager in franchise history at .521, surpassing that one guy who managed the Cubs and now calls Anaheim his home. What was his name again? I don’t remember either.
The Rays will face the Blue Jays in the Wildcard round playoffs — starting Tuesday at Tropicana Field — if the Yankees beat Miami or Toronto loses to Baltimore. If the Blue Jays win and the Yankees lose, the Rays will then face New York.
As for Philadelphia, they need a win and some help to qualify for a postseason berth … albeit one with a sub .500 record. They also need Milwaukee and San Francisco to lose.
The New What Next
Josh Fleming (4-0, 3.42 ERA) will get the start for Tampa Bay, pitching opposite of Aaron Nola (5-4, 3.06 ERA).
Josh Fleming, who was slated to pitch the bulk of the innings on Tuesday, entered the game after Ryan Thompson and got the final out of the third inning. He also allowed just a grounder in the fourth.
Even so, former Ray Guillermo Heredia battled back from an 0-2 count to earn a free pass, while Ramos hit a single to right on the next pitch, putting two on and moving a runner into scoring position. After Nimmo was hit by a pitch, consequently loading the bases, Jeff McNeil hit an infield RBI single that Willy Adames made a diving stop on, scoring Heredia and bringing the Mets within one. But, J.D. Davis lined to right on the very next pitch, keeping the Rays in front.
Fleming came out in the sixth and got the first two batters before Diego Castillo took over with Alonso, whom he quickly put away, stepping into the box.
After a rough start patch in September, Fleming has allowed just one run over 6-2/3 frames encompassing his last two trips to the mound.
Aaron Nola gave up five runs (three earned) on six hits and two walks over six innings on Thursday against Washington. He struck out six. It was Nola’s fourth quality start in his last six outings, a stretch during which he’s posted a 3.03 ERA and 3.85 K/BB across 38-2/3 innings. Nola relies primarily on an 85 mph changeup that dives down out of the zone, a 79 mph curveball with sweeping glove-side movement, a whiffy 93 mph four-seam fastball with obvious tail and some natural sinking action, and a groundball inducing 92 mph sinker with natural sinking action. Key Matchup: Hunter Renfroe (3-7, 2 2B)
You can read about the series in our preview, while the starting lineup and Noteworthiness are below.
Rays 9/27/20 Starting Lineup
- Wendle SS
- B Lowe DH
- Arozarena 2B
- N Lowe 1B
- Brosseau 3B
- Renfroe RF
- Phillips CF
- Margot LF
- Perez C
— The Rays will rest some of the key relievers this afternoon. Nick Anderson threw in the first game of the series, while Diego Castillo and Pete Fairbanks threw yesterday. Aaron Slegers also worked three innings last night, and John Curtiss pitched the last two games. That leaves Oliver Drake, Aaron Loup, Ryan Sherriff, and Ryan Thompson as options.
— Good news on the with runners in scoring position (wRISP) front. Tampa Bay has had success in this series when it has mattered most, going 7-for-16 wRISP (.438 wRISP BA).
— Ji-Man Choi and Yandy Diaz are expected to work out before the game. According to Neil Solondz (Rays Radio), the Rays have not decided if either or both will make the team’s playoff roster, as each is recovering from a hamstring injury. Rosters do not need to be finalized until Tuesday morning.
— Rays manager Kevin Cash set the pitching rotation in the Wildcard round of the playoffs. The team will go with Blake Snell in the first game, Tyler Glasnow in the second, and Charlie Morton in the third, if necessary.