This fella hit his first big-league homer in the season finale versus Toronto. (Photo Credit: Tampa Bay Rays)

After finishing the regular season with a series win in Toronto, the Tampa Bay Rays return to the friendly confines of the Trop, where they will start the best of three AL Wildcard Series against the Rangers on Tuesday. The Rangers dropped three of four against the Mariners over the weekend.

At 99-64 on the season (including the playoffs), the Rays enter play Wednesday 35 games above .500. They also set franchise records in runs scored (860) and home runs hit (230).

Tampa Bay won four of their final five regular-season games and seven of the last 10. They finished the regular season in second place in the AL East, two games behind Baltimore for the top spot. On Sunday, Tampa Bay got three hits from Raimel Tapia (run) and Jonathan Aranda (run, grand slam, six RBI) to lead a 16-hit charge in the contest. Manuel Margot (his fourth), Aranda (his second), and Junior Caminero (his first) also went deep in the win.

In spite of the injuries to key players, not to mention Kevin Cash keeping others on the bench to make sure they are fresh for a deep postseason run, the Rays put up a healthy .316 BA/.370 OBP/.511 SLG/.881 OPS over the last seven days of the season, with a 146 wRC+. Tampa Bay could get back a couple of key members of the wrecking crew; Luke Raley (neck) and José Siri each faced live batting practice on Monday, and by all accounts, they looked good.

The Rangers finished the regular season with a 90-72 record and tied with the Astros atop the AL West. They lost the tiebreaker to Houston as they fell 9-4 in the season series. Against Seattle Sunday, Texas finished with four hits with Evan Carter the lone player with two in the game. He had their lone extra-base hit, a double, and the team had just one at-bat with runners in scoring position. While the Rangers scored 21 more runs than Tampa Bay and put up a marginally better overall slash line, the offense has been ice-cold over the last seven days, slashing .189 BA/.297 OBP/.346 SLG/.643 OPS with a 78 wRC+.

The Rays ended the season with an overall 3.88 ERA and 3.81 FIP (3.92 ERA and 3.62 FIP for the starters, 3.83 ERA, and 4.03 FIP for the relievers). Tampa Bay has regressed over the last seven days — although that could be attributed to Kevin Cash leaning on depth as opposed to quality arms — putting up a 5.00 ERA and 3.77 FIP (4.50 ERA and a 3.81 FIP for the starters, 5.33 ERA and a 3.74 FIP for the relievers).

Texas’ pitching staff has put up a 3.47 ERA and 3.54 FIP on the season (4.24 ERA and 3.93 FIP for the starters, 4.77 ERA, and 4.45 FIP for the relievers). Over the final seven days of the season, they pitched to a combined 3.47 ERA and a 3.54 FIP (4.24 ERA and a 3.93 FIP for the starters, 2.45 ERA and a 3.02 FIP for the relievers).

Tampa Bay is 2-4 against Texas this season, with a -2 run differential. Things are different at the Trop, however, where the Rays went 2-1 with a +5 run differential.

Pitching Probables

Over the next three days, Kevin Cash is expected to turn to Tyler Glasnow (10-7, 3.53 ERA, 2.91 FIP), Zach Eflin (16-8, 3.50 ERA, 3.01 FIP), and Aaron Civale (7-5, 3.46 ERA, 3.57 FIP). Bruce Bochy will counter with Jordan Montgomery (10-11, 3.20 ERA, 3.56 FIP), Nathan Eovaldi (12-5, 3.63 ERA, 3.88 FIP), and a pitcher to be named before the (potential) third contest.

Tyler Glasnow allowed two hits and a walk over five scoreless innings against the Red Sox. He struck out nine. Glasnow left the mound after just 70 pitches (45 strikes, 64% strike rate) with the postseason in mind, but he was dominant before his exit, generating an incredible 31 called or swinging strikes (44% SwStr%). Whiffs have come easily for him in September even if nothing else has, and Glasnow has a 4.86 ERA and a 2.45 FIP, with a 1.17 WHIP, and a 4.8 K/BB through 33.1 innings on the month.

Jordan Montgomery allowed one run on five hits and two walks while striking out five over six innings against the Mariners on Thursday. Montgomery’s lone mistake was a solo home run to Julio Rodriguez in the fourth inning. The southpaw has pitched to a 2.79 ERA over 67.2 innings with the Rangers, and he’s at a 3.20 ERA and a 3.56 FIP, with a 1.19 WHIP, and 3.46 K/BB through 188.2 innings (32 starts) this season between Texas and St. Louis. Montgomery relies primarily on a 93 mph sinker that has surprising cut action, an 84 mph changeup, and an 80 mph 12-6 curveball, while also mixing in a 93 mph fourseam fastball that has some natural sinking action. Key Matchups: Randy Arozarena (4-20, 2 HR, 4 RBI, 2 BB), Christian Bethancourt (1-4), Josh Lowe (1-3), Manuel Margot (6-18, 4 2B, HR, 3 RBI, BB), Isaac Paredes (1-3, HR, RBI), Harold Ramírez (1-2, BB), Taylor Walls (2-4, BB)

Zach Eflin allowed three runs on five hits over five innings against Boston. He struck out four. Eflin cruised through the front four frames Tuesday, holding the Red Sox scoreless until Enmanuel Valdez’s three-run homer in the fifth. The 29-year-old right-hander closed out the regular season on a high note, holding opponents to three runs or fewer in each of his last eight starts. Eflin will finish an impressive first year in Tampa Bay with career-bests in ERA (3.50), WHIP (1.02), strikeouts (186), and innings pitched (177.2). He also boasts a 3.01 FIP.

Nathan Eovaldi allowed seven runs on five hits and two walks while striking out five over 3.1 innings on Friday versus the Mariners. Seattle did all its damage in the third and fourth innings, sending Eovaldi to the showers early after the back-to-back shaky frames. Over six September appearances, after returning from a forearm strain, Eovaldi allowed 21 runs across 20.1 innings with a 1.61 K/BB. He ends the regular season with a 3.63 ERA and a 3.88 FIP, 1.14 WHIP, and 3.26 K/BB over 144 innings (25 starts). Key Matchups: Josh Lowe (3-5, 2B, 2 BB), Manuel Margot (2-7), Taylor Walls (1-2, 2B)

Aaron Civale gave up one run on two hits and two walks over 1.2 innings against the Blue Jays on Friday. He struck out three. With Tampa Bay already locked into the top Wildcard spot, manager Kevin Cash elected to pull Civale after 40 pitches (21 strikes, 53% strike rate), while Zack Littell (35 pitches) and Taj Bradley (21 pitches) also saw action out of the ‘pen. All three right-handers figure to be available out of the bullpen in the AL Wildcard Series. Civale finishes the regular season with a 3.46 ERA and a 3.57 FIP, with a 1.16 WHIP, and a 3.52 K/BB through 122.1 innings split between Tampa Bay and Cleveland.



— To those of you who had bad takes about the lack of fans in attendance on Tuesday, at the Trop, let me first offer you a huge, yet free, piece of advice: pump the brakes. You clearly could not separate the signal from the noise if your life depended upon it.

Now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, and before you put your foot in your mouth once again with your pointless sports talk radio-driven narrative, that the Rays should play in Paducah, KY because of their proximity to both Nashville and St. Louis, blah blah blah, let’s first remember some things:

  1. Rays attendance was up 28% this year over last, and almost 1.5 million butts were in the stands this season. Perfect? No. But, fans will and do show up to the Trop, and it is something to build on. Give us some credit.
  2. The Rays, historically, HAVE drawn in the postseason. If anything, Tuesday’s +19,000 figure is more anomalous than anything else. Hell, in 2019, the team drew 32,251 fans to game three of the ALDS versus Houston, and the following day 32,178 attended game four.

“What’s the difference?”, you might be asking. Game scheduling.

On Sunday, Major League Baseball scheduled all three contests against the Rangers for 3:08 PM. …You know, in the middle of a workday, and in the middle of a workweek. While I’m no genius, a simple understanding of elapsed time would show a difference of fewer than two days’ worth of lead time to make a decision to purchase tickets, ask for time off from work, and show up to the game.

Do you know who has the luxury of taking time off from work? The people who sit in the really expensive seats … the ones that were packed Tuesday afternoon. And, do you know which seats weren’t filled? The ones in the less expensive areas of the stadium, like the upper deck or down the lines. To me, that screams that Joe Q. Baseball Fan couldn’t get time off from work, had more important tasks to handle like picking their kids up from school (which gets out around 3:00 PM), or both.

I am willing to bet that, had the game started at a later time — say 6:40 PM, when Rays’ weekday games typically start — far more people would have made it out Tuesday. Actually, that’s a wager I’m willing to make. If the Rays make it to the American League Division Series, and if the two presumed games start later in the day, I am confident that far more fans will be in attendance.

Anyone who is willing to castigate or strawman Rays fans for not showing up to a middle-of-the-afternoon contest — which, as stated above was haphazard in its scheduling — is far happier to spread some low-hanging (and frankly classist) media-driven narrative, than they are in having an honest and candid conversation.

— The Rays made a flurry of roster moves on Monday, which you can read below.

10/02/23Tampa Bay Rays activated CF Jose Siri from the 10-day injured list.
10/02/23LF Luke Raley roster status changed by Tampa Bay Rays.
10/02/23CF Jose Siri roster status changed by Tampa Bay Rays.
10/02/232B Brandon Lowe roster status changed by Tampa Bay Rays.
10/02/23Tampa Bay Rays activated LF Luke Raley from the 10-day injured list.
10/02/23Tampa Bay Rays activated 2B Brandon Lowe from the 10-day injured list.
10/02/23Tampa Bay Rays recalled LHP Josh Fleming from Durham Bulls.
10/02/23Tampa Bay Rays recalled 2B Vidal Bruján from Durham Bulls.
10/02/23Tampa Bay Rays sent RHP Erasmo Ramírez outright to Durham Bulls.
10/02/23Tampa Bay Rays recalled SS Tristan Gray from Durham Bulls.
10/02/23Tampa Bay Rays recalled RHP Cole Sulser from Durham Bulls.
10/02/23Tampa Bay Rays recalled RHP Colby White from Montgomery Biscuits.

— 15 position players and 11 pitchers cracked the Rays Wildcard Series roster including José Siri, who returns from the 10-Day Injured List.