Tampa Bay Rays Clinch AL Wild Card Spot Despite MLB's Lowest Opening Day Payroll

Dan Israeli
Baltimore Orioles v Toronto Blue Jays
Baltimore Orioles v Toronto Blue Jays / Mark Blinch/Getty Images

The Tampa Bay Rays will play in their first MLB postseason since 2013, as the team is set to face the Oakland Athletics in the AL Wild Card game on Wednesday, Oct. 2.

The Rays managed to accomplish this feat despite having the lowest Opening Day payroll in baseball. It's an especially impressive achievement playing in the AL East, a division that includes two of the highest payrolls in the Majors – the Boston Red Sox (first) and New York Yankees (third).

Tampa Bay Rays Depth Chart

In a league dominated by power and teams with loaded (and expensive) pitching rotations, the Rays took a seemingly fascinating approach en route to their 2019 success. As an organization obsessed with analytics, Tampa Bay remained extremely matchup driven as far as their game-by-game lineups and pitching decisions, employing lots of batting platoons and openers to start games.

The Rays' offense averaged 4.78 runs per game, good for 14th in all of baseball coming into play Saturday, despite finishing 21st in home runs during a season in which the most homers in MLB history have been hit. Tampa Bay has rode its pitching, with the best team ERA in the American League at 3.62.

While Tampa certainly has a "do more with less" mentality, they still made a plethora of savvy moves to get them to this point.

The team signed Charlie Morton to a very reasonable two-year, $30-million contract last December, when he surprisingly drew little interest on the open market. Morton went on to finish 16-6 with a 3.05 ERA, making his second All-Star team. His performance was especially crucial given the injury suffered to reigning AL Cy Young Blake Snell, who returned in September following arthroscopic shoulder surgery.

In addition to the Morton signing, the Rays pulled off what is looking like one of the most lopsided trades in recent memory last July. Tampa Bay traded starter Chris Archer to the Pittsburgh Pirates for starter Tyler Glasnow, outfielder Austin Meadows and pitching prospect Shane Baz.

While Archer struggled in Pittsburgh this year (3-9, 5.19 ERA), Meadows had a breakout season for the Rays, hitting .293 with 33 homers. Glasnow has missed much of the season due to injury, but owns a 1.78 ERA through 60 2/3 innings in 2019. Both players could serve as vital contributors if the Rays are able to extend their postseason with a win over the A's next Tuesday.

The location of the Wild Card game is yet to be determined, as the Rays and A's are tied in the standings heading into the final weekend of the 2019 MLB season. But no matter the outcome, this is still an amazing feat for a team with the lowest payroll in Major League Baseball.

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