The Rays are currently three games out of the second wild-card spot with seven games remaining on the schedule. They have a four-game series in Chicago against the White Sox before concluding the season with a three-game home series against the Baltimore Orioles.
Making the postseason is still very possible for the resilient, never-say-die Rays. They can make it a reality by winning at least six of their final seven games, but they will need help from other teams as well.
The remaining schedule for the Rays is far from favorable. They start with a four-game series in Chicago against a White Sox team that is one game behind the Detroit Tigers in the AL Central race.
If that’s not tough enough, the Rays conclude the 2012 season at home in a three-game series against the wild card-leading Baltimore Orioles, who are also 1.5 games behind the New York Yankees for the AL East pennant.
With the new rules placing more emphasis on winning the division, the Orioles will likely not be playing backups in the final games, like the Yankees did against the Rays last season.
The best case scenario for the Rays is to be within three games of the Orioles by the time they start their series. It would give the Rays a chance to make the postseason through their own merit, with minimal scoreboard watching.
In order for the Rays to win enough games to stay in the postseason discussion over the next week, they will have to beat tough teams that are also playing meaningful baseball.
The most likely scenario for the Rays to make the postseason is to pass the two teams standing between them and the second wild-card spot—the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and the Oakland A’s. Coincidentally, both those teams finish their seasons against the Rangers and Mariners.
In order for this scenario to work, the Rays would have to overcome the Angels first. The Angels are a game ahead of them and are the first team out of the second wild-card spot.
Like the Rays, the Angels are 7-3 in their last 10 games.
Today is the final home game for the Angels, as they face the Mariners. The team will finish the season on the road against the Rangers and Mariners in two three-game series.
On the road this year, the Angels have a 40-35 record. They are 10-5 against the Mariners this year and 8-8 against the Rangers.
If the Rays are successful in passing the Angels, their best hope to make the postseason is to then overtake the Oakland A’s. The A’s are currently three games ahead of the Rays and hold the second wild-card spot.
The A’s are 4-6 in their last 10 games. If they continue to play losing baseball, they could set the table for the Rays to make the postseason.
The remaining schedule for the A’s includes today’s final road game against the Rangers. The final six games are two home three-game series against the Mariners and Rangers.
The A’s have posted winning records against those clubs so far this season, going 8-7 against the Rangers and 9-7 against the Mariners.
Let’s assume that the Rays can finish the season 6-1. The A’s would have to finish 2-5, and the Angels 4-3 or worse, in order for the Rays to finish the season with a better record and claim the second wild-card spot in the American League outright.
The real fun would be if the season ends in either a two-way or three-way tie for the second wild-card spot. That would result in either a one-game or two-game playoff to determine who gets to play in the one-game wild-card playoff. (Complete playoff tiebreaker rules are available on MLB.com).
With all of these fun scenarios, one thing is certain: The final week of baseball will be a lot of fun to watch.
Jamal Wilburg is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report.