Rays hope September surge aids playoff push

After encouraging stretch, Tampa Bay eyeing AL Wild Card spot

Rays hope September surge aids playoff push

BALTIMORE -- Funny how a good stretch can change one's perspective, especially where the baseball standings are concerned.

Translation: The Rays still have hope to earn a spot in the playoffs as the American League's second Wild Card team.

And, after all, that's the idea, isn't it? Play significant games in September, crash the postseason party.

"[We're] one good week away from giving ourselves a realistic chance of getting into the playoffs," Evan Longoria said. "It's September, so anything can happen."

After dropping the first two games of last weekend's series against the Royals, Tampa Bay seemed to gather steam when it defeated the AL's best team on Sunday before winning two out of three against the Orioles to move to 66-67 on the season and 4 1/2 games behind in the race for the second Wild Card spot.

For the Rays to get to 88 wins (which is how many wins will likely be needed to get the AL's second Wild Card spot), they must win 22 of their final 29 games. In other words, a team with a less-than-.500 record must play .758 ball for the duration of the final month.

Now the good news is that if Tampa Bay can somehow reach the playoffs -- even if it's as an 88-win team -- it has a chance to win the World Series. See the 2014 Giants, who entered the playoffs as an 88-win team.

Positives that might enable the Rays to sustain the kind of pace needed to go 22-7 include the following:

Drew Smyly is back and pitching like he has in the past.
• The offense is showing signs of life, scoring 23 runs in the past three games.
Alex Colome has turned into a force while pitching in meaningful innings.
• Late charges have historically be a part of Tampa Bay's culture (See Game 162).

Then there's Longoria, who could be the wild card in this whole equation. He hit two home runs in Wednesday night's 7-6 extra-inning loss to the Orioles. If Longoria can get hot, he could very well carry the team for a month.

Longo's two homers

"I thought we, as a team, swung the bat really well this series [against the Orioles]," Longoria said, "so that hopefully there's that carryover. This is that stretch run where we have to put some series like we did here together to be able to give ourselves a chance in the end."

The team will have a better idea about the rest of its season following the upcoming three-game series against the Yankees in New York. A tall mountain to climb sits right in front of them, but it's not time to sack the bats just yet.

"There's a lot of guys [on the Rays] who have been in some winning situations and believe that we can do it, believe that we can put together a nice little stretch of games and give ourselves a chance to play in the playoffs," Longoria said. "That's all it takes is guys who continue to believe until the last day of the season."

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. Listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.