The Rays currently sit 2.5 games behind the Yankees in the AL East. They are also 1.5 games behind the Baltimore Orioles as well as the Oakland A’s for the wild card.
Obviously, the first order of business for the Rays is to win their series against the Rangers.
Provided they are able to win their series, the next best possible outcome would be the Orioles defeating the Yankees.
After the Rays three-game series against the Rangers, they face both the Orioles and Yankees on the road next week. This gives them the opportunity to close the gap and possibly overtake the teams in the standings.
Here is a look at four possible scenarios the Rays could be facing following this weekend’s games.
The absolute worst case scenario for the Tampa Bay Rays is losing the series to the Texas Rangers.
They could find themselves as far as six games behind the New York Yankees which would make winning the division more fantasy than possibility.
Even if the New York Yankees get swept by the Baltimore Orioles, the Rays would still trail them by at least one game, if they don't win Rangers series. Not to mention that they would also be further behind the Orioles.
The Rays can't afford to lose any ground to the A's, Tigers or Angels as they don't have any games remaining against those teams to keep control of their own destiny.
If the New York Yankees win the series against the Baltimore Orioles, they could put the division crown out of reach from the Tampa Bay Rays.
Winning the series would leave the Yankees with a record of either 80-60 or 81-59 depending on if they sweep. Providing the Rays do their part against the Rangers, they would still find themselves more games behind the Yankees than they have games remaining against them on the schedule.
In other words, if they are three or four games behind the Yankees after Sunday, even if they sweep the Yankees next week, they would still trail and need help from other teams to win the division.
Even though the Yankees have been struggling lately going 4-6 over their last 10 games, hoping for help is not how you want to plan to make the postseason.
A split series between the New York Yankees and Baltimore Orioles would leave the most room for error by the Tampa Bay Rays.
The Yankees' and Orioles' records would be 79-61 and 78-62, respectively. A Rays' series win leaving them at either 78-62 or 77-63 will make add more intensity to the race as Tampa Bay prepares to play both teams next week in their ballparks.
If the Rays can enter next week no more than two games behind either team, it will allow them the opportunity to overtake both teams in the standings by winning the series or sweeping them.
The downside is it still keeps all three teams very close in the race with minimal margin for error for the remainder of the schedule. That result would be great for baseball fans but not ideal for the team.
At this point in the season, a New York Yankees loss' is a Tampa Bay Rays' win.
If the Baltimore Orioles sweep the Yankees, the teams' records would be 80-60 and 77-63, respectively. Again, the Rays would be looking at either 78-62 or 77-63 with a series win over the Texas Rangers.
This scenario would give the Rays the opportunity to play their way to the division crown. If they are tied with the Yankees after this weekend, they can overtake them by winning the series in the Bronx.
Although this scenario could still leave them three games behind the Orioles, they have six games remaining against Baltimore, in which winning five would put them one game ahead. That is, assuming the remainder of the schedule plays out even.
Beyond it being the best scenario for the teams, it's also a great scenario for baseball fans. Last year Game 162 saw the Orioles defeat the Boston Red Sox sending the Rays to the postseason with their win over the Yankees.
This year we could see a Game 162 at Tropicana Field where the Rays and Orioles would face off for the Al East pennant.
How exciting would that be?
Jamal Wilburg is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report.