AL Wild Card race: Yankees running down the Rays

Rays fail - Jeff Gross

Thanks to a good stretch by the Yankees and a rough one for Tampa Bay, the second Wild Card spot is within reach.

On August 8th, the New York Yankees were at what was quite possibly their lowest point of the year, sitting at just 1 game over .500 at 57-56. Meanwhile, the Tampa Bay Rays were nine games ahead of them at 66-47, eyeing the possibility of a division title, much less the Wild Card. Now, less than a month later, the Yankees have closed to within 2.5 games of the Rays for the final AL playoff spot. So in that time, what has befallen the Rays that has allowed the Yankees to gain so much ground?

The Rays are not hitting nearly as well as the Yankees

Shocking development: hitting is important. While the Yankees offense has undergone a transformation thanks to the return of some injured stars and some savvy acquisitions, the Rays have been the exact opposite. They have sputtered as the Summer comes to a close.

Tampa Bay Rays

Date

G

Rslt

R

H

HR

BB

BA

OBP

SLG

OPS

LOB

8/8-9/2

23

9-14

76

184

19

87

.242

.320

.378

.697

168

Average

3.3

8.0

0.8

3.8

7.3

New York Yankees

Date

G

Rslt

R

H

HR

BB

BA

OBP

SLG

OPS

LOB

8/8-9/2

24

16-8

123

229

27

76

.280

.349

.439

.788

170

Average

5.1

9.5

1.1

3.2

7.1

Averaging less than 3 1/2 runs per game is incredibly difficult to overcome, even when you're as good on the pitching and defensive end as the Rays are. And more specifically, the man that was seen as the difference-maker in the Rays offense has been in a freefall.

Wil Myers has been struggling mightily.

Myers, one of the top prospects in all of MLB, sported a wRC+ of 122 in June and 166 in July. He famously broke onto the scene with a grand slam off of CC Sabathia, which I had the unfortunate pleasure of seeing in person. But it has been a different story in August and into September.

Date

G

PA

H

HR

RBI

BB

BA

OBP

SLG

OPS

WPA

8/8-9/2

21

89

13

1

9

9

.167

.258

.256

.515

-0.768

That works out to a wRC+ of under 75. Myers was a revelation early on for the Rays, providing them with a secondary power threat alongside superstar Evan Longoria that they sorely needed. If he's hit the famed "Rookie Wall", they'll need him to break through it soon. But feel free not to, Wil.

They can't seem to win on the West Coast

This probably falls more under the category of "coincidence" than the other two, but I'd figure I'd throw it in here because it fills me with irrational optimism. The Rays are 1-9 in stadiums located in the Western Time Zone, earning their first win there last night against the Angels. (Conversely, the Yankees went 6-10) This is fun to know because they play their next five games in stadiums that are located in that very time zone. So here's hoping that the Rays do just really hate playing on the West Coast that much.

The Rays have been a notoriously streaky team in 2013, so there's no reason to believe that the Rays couldn't followup their recent struggles by running off a couple of wins in a row. The return of starter Matt Moore last night from injury will certainly bolster their chances. But perhaps these recent struggles are part of a continuing trend, in which case the Wild Card could be for the Yankees' taking. It may very well come down to the second to last series of the Yankees' season to settle it all.

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