The Tampa Bay Rays are obviously playing very poorly right now, losing 15 of their last 18 games. We know that they aren’t this bad, and though things certainly seem bleak now, their turnaround last season after a 1-15 stretch inspires hope. Can they get past their disastrous last few weeks to make the postseason? As it turns out, four teams have made the playoffs in the Wild Card era in years where they went 3-15 in any 18-game period in the season: the 1995 New York Yankees, the 2000 Yankees, the 2000 Seattle Mariners, and the 2006 Los Angeles Dodgers.
The ’95 Yankees were a half-game up in the AL East when their streak began on May 13th, but they found themselves 9.5 games back when it concluded on June 11th. The Rays are fortunate enough to be much closer than that. Those Yankees actually proceed to go 14-17 in August after a strong 17-11 July, but they won the AL Wild Card by going 22-6 in August and September. You need a crazy run like that to win despite a 3-15 stretch.
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The 2000 Yankees aren’t as applicable of a case as their streak happened to end the season. Even so, they rebounded immediately after such a streak to win the World Series–at the very least, there is hope of a similar result for these Rays. In the ALCS, they beat the Mariners, who had gone 3-15 during a stretch from late August to early September. They began the stretch at 6.5 games up in the AL West before seeing their lead dwindle to 1.5 games shortly afterwards. They lost the division by half a game (the A’s had the tiebreaker anyway), but still won the Wild Card and emerged victorious in a playoff round.
The most applicable team of all, though, is the 2006 Dodgers. They were tied for first in the NL West on July 5th before it all came apart. On July 26th, they sat 7.5 games back. However, they wound up winning their next 11 games and 17 of 18 to back up by 3.5 games. They finished the season tied for the division lead at 88 wins and were the NL Wild Card because of a tiebreaker. The Rays don’t need to start winning every single game they play and they have a little bit more time than the Dodgers did, but they certainly need some kind of string of dominance to have a chance.
The 1995 Yankees had a month where they went 22-6 while the ’06 Dodgers went 21-7 in August. If the Tampa Bay Rays are going to pull this off, they will need a month something like that. The Dodgers won 88 games while the Yankees were winning at an 89-game pace (the season was strike-shortened), and the Rays may have a little more margin for error. Maybe if they win only 86 or 87 games, that would be enough to win the division. No matter what, though, they need to turn their season entirely around to have any chance of overcoming their recent poor play. Once they start playing better, then we can start thinking about the playoffs as a possibility for them again.