With a playoff spot anything but guaranteed, the Tampa Bay Rays sure picked a horrible time to lose all focus defensively. As a result, they find themselves precariously close to missing out completely.
Multiple errors, two coming in a four-run fourth inning, put the Toronto Blue Jays ahead for good Friday night. But the implications could go further than that, depending on what happens in the Cleveland Indians and Texas Rangers games. If both teams win, the Rays will find themselves tied with Cleveland for the top AL Wild Card spot, while Texas sits just one game back.
That leaves this team with absolutely no room for mistakes during the season’s final two days, something worth paying attention to, considering how tightly bunched everyone is. By that, I mean nobody expected the Indians to still be part of the AL pennant race. Meanwhile, Texas got on a roll after beating the Rays at Tropicana Field just over a week ago.
I’ll admit, manager Joe Maddon‘s decision to start Jeremy Hellickson was hard for anyone to understand. His 5.16 ERA is far and away the worst among every Rays starter this season, which earned him a demotion to the minor leagues back in late August. While that helped some, it still appears he gets rattled very easily, which is not a good sign for a team looking to secure a playoff spot.
Knowing that, one would think the team would do anything possible to make him more comfortable. It seems someone forgot to give the Rays’ defense that memo though, as their three errors (two by Gold Glove third baseman Evan Longoria) were a season high. They also committed two errors in one inning for the first time since July of 2011. Oh, and their 59 fielding mistakes trail only the Baltimore Orioles for tops in MLB. It’s amazing when you think about it.
Even so, those blunders proved costly. How much so? Let’s put it this way: One more defensive miscue could see the Rays packing up for a long offseason sooner than anyone expected.