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Rays Beat Blue Jays to Clinch 2021 MLB Playoff Spot

Paul KasabianSenior ContributorSeptember 22, 2021

Tampa Bay Rays' Austin Meadows watches his three-run home run off Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Ross Stripling during the third inning of a baseball game Wednesday, Sept. 22, 2021, in St. Petersburg, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

The Tampa Bay Rays are headed to the playoffs for the third straight year after defeating the Toronto Blue Jays 7-1 on Wednesday.

MLB @MLB

The reigning AL Champs just keep swimming. For the third straight year, @RaysBaseball will play in the postseason. #CLINCHED https://t.co/M1TyvbXyUH

Austin Meadows blasted a three-run homer, Randy Arozarena smacked three hits and six Rays pitchers combined to allow just four hits.

Tampa Bay can finish no worse than the second American League Wild Card spot, but an AL East title appears to be its destiny. The Rays lead the second-place Boston Red Sox by 6.5 games for the division crown with nine matchups left.

They also currently own the AL's best record by three games over the Houston Astros.

The Rays have steadily improved since going 68-94 and finishing last in the AL East in 2016. They added 12 wins in 2017 before going 90-72 in 2018.

That wasn't good enough for the playoffs, but a 96-66 record did the trick in 2019.

Once there, the Rays took the eventual pennant-winning Astros to the five-game limit in the AL Division Series before losing.

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The 2020 season saw the Rays win the AL East before taking down the New York Yankees and Astros in the playoffs to take their first pennant since 2008. They pushed the favored Los Angeles Dodgers to six games in the World Series before bowing out.

This year's Rays look primed for another World Series campaign. They have a deep and balanced team once again, and now they've added prodigious power hitter Nelson Cruz from the Minnesota Twins to help them in the stretch run.

Arozarena, Meadows, Mike Zunino and Brandon Lowe provide the pop in this lineup alongside Cruz. Rookie sensation and former No. 1 overall prospect Wander Franco has also starred at shortstop.

The Rays are also excellent in the field, especially with Kevin Kiermaier patrolling center. The three-time Gold Glove winner has led a Rays defense that sits third in the AL in fielding percentage.

The Rays' pitching strength lies in the bullpen, which is a fantastic group that includes a pair of sub-2.00 ERA relievers in Collin McHugh and Andrew Kittredge, the latter of whom is on the 10-day injured list with neck tightness.

Closer Diego Castillo has enjoyed a solid year too with a 2.72 ERA and 14 saves.

The Rays are doing all this despite missing ace pitcher Tyler Glasnow, who underwent successful Tommy John surgery and is out until 2023. Glasnow was 5-2 with a 2.66 ERA and 123 strikeouts in 88.0 innings before being lost for the season.

Tampa Bay has somehow made it work without him thanks in part to pitchers such as Shane McClanahan (9-6, 3.51 ERA) and Drew Rasmussen (3-0, 2.67 ERA).

Now the Rays will search for their first World Series title in franchise history, which dates back to 1998.

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