Why The Rays Can Still Win

Alex Cobb has already won one elimination game for the Rays. Can he win another in Game 3 of the ALDS? (USA TODAY Sports)

Alex Cobb has already won one elimination game for the Rays. Can he win another in Game 3 of the ALDS? (USA TODAY Sports)

If you’re a fan of any of the teams leading their series, then you’ve probably loved the MLB playoffs so far. But if you’re just a baseball fan, you probably feel let down, as most of the games have been blowouts. In 10 divisional round games, the average margin of victory is 4.4 runs. Three games have been decided by one run, but the other seven have been decided by an average of almost six runs (5.9 to be exact). That’s not fun, evenly matched baseball; that’s one boot to the hindquarters after another.

No series has used a bigger boot and swung it more swiftly than the Rays and Red Sox. The average margin of victory in that series has been 6½ runs. The Rays have been outscored 19-6, out-hit 25-12, and have led for a total of three innings. It looks bad, for the Rays it is bad, and yet the Rays have a realistic chance to win the series.

“Realistic” does not mean “overwhelmingly good,” of course. It’s not a good chance — they are down two games to none — but it’s maybe a bigger chance than you’d think. First, because of the divisional series format, the Rays have to win only three games, which is easier than four. The Rays won three games in a row 33 different times this season (counting a four-game win streak as two and a five-game win streak as three, etc.), while the Red Sox lost three in a row five times. So what the Rays need to do has been done by them, and has been done to their opponent (though not by them). If you’re the Rays, that’s a good thing.

If you’re looking for straight numbers, the Rays have a 13 percent chance to win all three games based only on the average winning percentages of teams with two of three games at home. Thirteen percent isn’t good odds, but it’s also not “win the lottery” odds. It’s more like the odds that, hey, it’s Saturday! According to the The Associated Press, only four of the previous 22 American League teams (18 percent) that lost the first two games of the division series came back to win the series.

So home field gives the Rays a 13 percent chance and history gives them an 18 percent chance. The numbers don’t favor Tampa, but then you wouldn’t expect them to. Considering the Rays’ track record this season as a very good team (you don’t win 92 games in the American League East without being a very good team), you might even be generous and bump them up just slightly to about a 20 percent, or one-in-five shot. That’s still not great, but it’s far more than nothing.

According to the The Associated Press, only four of the previous 22 American League teams (18 percent) that lost the first two games of the division series came back to win the series. So the numbers don’t favor Tampa, but then you wouldn’t expect them to. Considering the Rays’ track record this season as a very good team (you don’t win 92 games in the American League East without being a very good team), you might even be generous and bump them up just slightly to about a 20 percent, or one-in-five shot. That’s still not great, but it’s far more than nothing.

There are a few other things that the Rays can rest their hopes on. Boston posted an .819 OPS at home this season, but on the road that number drops to .773. Moving the Red Sox out of Fenway Park doesn’t turn their offense off, but it does make them slightly less potent, and considering Tampa is about the same at home as on the road, that’s a relative advantage for the Rays.

On the pitching side, the Rays had a 3.49 ERA at home but a 4.01 ERA on the road. The Red Sox had a 3.57 ERA at home but a 4.03 ERA on the road. So the two teams essentially trade off pitching staffs. That’s more good news for the Rays who are playing their next two games in Tampa.

There’s always recent history as well. The Rays have played in two elimination games this season, winning both. The pitchers who pitched in those games, David Price and Alex Cobb, are scheduled to pitch in two of the remaining three games (Jeremy Hellickson is scheduled to pitch Game 4). They say once a player shows a skill, he has it. The 2013 Rays have shown that they can win elimination games because they played them and won them. Is winning elimination games really a skill? Not like hitting for power or running, but the ability to play well under pressure likely is, or at least, to not let the pressure negatively effect performance. The Rays have avoided that and many other pitfalls in those two games.

Past performance is no guarantee of future success (Carl Crawford’s contract can tell you that), so just because the Red Sox won the first two games doesn’t mean they’ll win any more games this series. The Rays won 92 games in the toughest division in baseball. If any team can maximize their chances in a predicament like this, it’s the Rays. They understand the numbers are against them, but they also understand the numbers and will do the little things (shifting, early pitching changes, or whatever is needed) to push the percentages further in their direction. Even so, the numbers aren’t promising, but the team is, so for that reason, you don’t have to squint hard to see Tampa pulling off a comeback in this series. I just wouldn’t bet on it.

39 thoughts on “Why The Rays Can Still Win

  1. Sorry for the blowouts, but maybe if MLB hadn’t cheapened the post-season by adding a wild-card game, then adding another, you’d see more close games. Baseball is trending toward hockey and basketball, where half the teams make the playoffs and the weak ones typically get blown out early. Joe Maddon says he loves the second wild card…how would he have felt in 2008 if a second wild-card team had kept the Rays out of the World Series after they had won the division fair and square?

    • Unclear phrasing… he meant that they have two of three games at home, not that they would play all three games at home. Editing to clarify now. Thanks.

    • Actually they DID get beaten 3 straight, but never 4 straight.

      That said, GOOOOOOOOOOOO SOX!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      Sweep the Rays.

    • Lost 3 in a row at least 6 times. Why would you say they didnt ? Check your own statesment before making them

    • Check your facts.
      May 3: Tex 7 Bos 0, May 4: Tex 5 Bos 1, May 5: Tex 4 Bos 3
      May 7: Min 6 Bos 1, May 8: Min 15 Bos 8, May 9: Min 5 Bos 3
      May 11: Tor 3 Bos 2, May 12: Tor 12 Bos 4, May 13 off day, May 14: TB 5 Bos 3
      July 6: LAA 9 Bos 7, July 7: LAA 3 Bos 0, July 8: Sea 11 Bos 4
      Aug 14: Tor 4 Bos 3, Aug 15: Tor 2 Bos 1, Aug 16: NYY 10 Bos 3

    • It seems like a pointless article. Of course the Rays “can” win, but they keep mentioning their record in the AL East, but they fail to mention that the Sox won 97 games in the same division. I’m sure my view is a bit biased being a Sox fan but this guy is really digging deep on this story.

  2. Omitted from this article…which made a lot of good points, was the fact that the Rays defense has cost them at least one game . The Rays need to get their head in the game. You can’t make mistakes in the playoffs, there’s little to no second chances. I still think they can make this a series. Both Red Sox and Rays teams are really good and talented and it should be fun watching them fight it out today.

  3. Th Red Sox were 6-3 at the Trop in the regular season and in those games had a better ERA by about 1.0.

    Bucholz pitched 5 shutout innings against the Rays at Tropicana after coming of the disabled list.

    If he pitches well tonight then it’s over.

    • I agree with you, everyone is talking about how great tampa is, which is fine but lets not forget that the best team, was and still is Boston. So lets stop all the none sence..

      • not sure what none sence is…how can i stop it if I don’t even know what it is!!!!

        oh wait maybe you meant nonsense…Boston fans are smart.

  4. I am not a red Sox fan but it appears that they are the team to beat. Even with the one week layoff they still came out scoring big. I just don’t see any team winning a series against them. They are firing on all cylinders!

  5. This team was not top AL team for no reason. They did win 97 games in the toughest division in baseball. I respect Tampa Bay, they typicallyhave been a thorn in Boston’s side in recent years. However, the Sox dominated Tampa for most of this year, for once. Pitching Moore and Price in games 1 and 2, did not stop the Sox and it had in the regular season. Instead, they brutalized both pitchers – and now what?? they bring Buchholz in for game 3?? A 12-1 starter with a 1.74 ERA?? Even if he isnt spot on, you STILL have to deal with Boston’s lineup (dont forget that deep bench). Papi is playing like he means business, this could be one of his last chances to go to the dance…. If the Sox are up by the 8th, Tampa’s in trouble, cause Koji Uehara is waiting in the wings to SHUT IT DOWN. Boston’s time to get even for 2008.

  6. no matter what happens in this series, the American League will be the Oakland Athletics …

  7. This is absolutely ridiculous. If they have an 18% chance of winning, what’s the point of even talking about it.

  8. The Tampa Bay Rays have an exceptional team, considering their small payroll, compared to the likes of the Yankees, Dodgers, and Angels. Their minor league farm system
    similar to the Cardinals always seems to churn out mlb ready talent. Being a longtime
    Yankee fan, Im really disgusted with how the NY Yankees have been run since
    George Steinbreener’s death. Brian Cashman is the most inept, incompetent,
    least knowledgeable G.M. in major league baseball. When mlb analysts get on the
    bandwagon and proclaim what a terrific job Cashman has done has to be the biggest
    B.S. ever stated.
    Also, at the executives at MLB deaf, listening to Ron Darling announcing his
    horrible, I’d rather have root canal. Darling, Ernie Johnson(stick to basketball),
    Eric Byrnes, Pedro Martinez, Gary Sheffield, come on let’s get serious,
    these guys are totally outclassed by Costas, Harold Reynolds, Ken Singleton,
    mlb needs to make watching and listening to mlb playoffs tolerable, listening
    to Darling speak is intolerable and painful.
    Also, thankfully the Bud Selig reign of terror and ineptness is almost
    over. If you want to add a second wild card team that’s fine but not a one game
    do or die, needs to be 2 out of three, MLB needs to eliminate at least one week
    of preseason games that no fans will miss.

  9. I think the main insight of this article can be summed up as follows: The Rays can still win the series, because they have not lost it yet. (Even if it had never been done before, it would still be possible. That’s why they play all of the games, “if necessary”…)

    The statistics in the article don’t really convince me one way or the other.

  10. You mentioned several times that the rays won 92 games in the toughest division in baseball and that this fact should increase their chances of coming back in the series. You left out the fact that the sox are in the same division and won 97…. If anything that should lower the rays chances lower than the observed 18%

  11. Winning two “elimination” games does not apply in this situation. They were single game playoff games. They now have to win three straight “elimination games” against a team that has shown them how it is done… in the Rays home Park (aka, Fenway South).

  12. Note to Matthew Kory….(paragraph 8)…..The rays do not play in Tampa. They play in St. Petersburg. Tampa is across the bay. The Yankees play in Tampa, but only in spring.

  13. Chances of beating Bucholz, Peavy, and Lester at home are far less that 20% – what a maroon.

      • KT you’re obviously the moron because you didn’t get Gary’s reference…and then had the nerve to think you’re smart enough to call him out when you actually don’t have a clue.

  14. The sox are quick, have power, play great defense, starting pitching is healthy ,have a deep talented bench and have the best closer in baseball in the second half…game set match..on to the next round please!no more stories about the rays and maddon …the sox are just a better team period

  15. I’m not saying the Rays can’t come back (go Sox!), but I think it’s funny to put up an article that might have a shelf life of several hours.

  16. The upside to the Rays winning those must win games was that they were riding a adrenalin-fueled hot streak. The big question was whether the Sox would wake up or not. I think the first two games answered that and have neutralized the Rays’ hot streak. The problem for the Rays is that they just look really mentally tired. Sleeping in their own beds may help with the physical, but I think it will take more than that for them to stop making all the mistakes they are. No offense to the Rays — same thing would be true for the Sox if they’d gone traveled the same road to get here.

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