For the third consecutive year, the Tampa Bay Rays are headed to the postseason. It marks the first time in the 24-year history of the franchise that the Rays have been to the playoffs three years in a row.
Tampa won the American League pennant last year, before falling in six games to the L.A. Dodgers in the World Series. In 2019, the Rays lost 3-2 in the AL Division Series to the Houston Astros, who went on to the World Series.
“They deserve to be in this spot. I know that we all recognize and appreciate that we’ve got more work to be done, but you’ve got to enjoy these moments because they’re tough to come by,” manager Kevin Cash said after Wednesday’s game.
Which seed Tampa Bay will receive hasn’t quite been determined yet. Going into Friday’s games, the Rays hold a six-game lead in the competitive AL East division with nine games to play. Their 94-59 record is the best in the AL and third-best overall behind the NL’s San Francisco Giants (99-54) and Dodgers (98-55).
Much of Tampa Bay’s recent success can be attributed to the culture the team has cultivated in the clubhouse. Outfielder Brett Phillips discussed the dynamic recently on the Sports Spectrum Podcast.
“I’m going to quote Scripture: As iron sharpens iron, one man sharpens another. We lead the league in guys going to chapel. Over half the team goes to chapel,” Phillips said. “We have an unbelievable group of guys, like-minded guys, [many] who have a relationship with God. Going into the clubhouse each and every day, regardless of how you’re feeling, you know you have a believer next to you who’s going to pick you up.”
Phillips said many players on the team do Bible studies (they’re going through the book of Romans), in which they get to truly know each other as teammates and as people. It’s built a pattern of selflessness on the field and accountability off of it.
“That’s what’s made this season go by fast and good,” Phillips said, “and what’s been special is seeing these guys not only growing in baseball but in their faith as well.”
Phillips, a reserve outfielder, is in his fifth MLB season with his third different team. He says the Tampa organization is different.
“Everyone is awesome in the clubhouse,” he said. “I mean, I can’t sit here and tell you one guy that I try and avoid in the clubhouse, and that doesn’t usually happen in a big-league clubhouse. That’s just the reality of it. But it comes down to everyone just picking each other up, and we’re playing good baseball.”
“It just seems like there’s a new hero each and every night,” he said. “We really pull for one another. We really come together. We enjoy pulling for one another.”
When the postseason begins, it will mark the Rays’ seventh overall appearance as they seek their first World Series title. In addition to last year, Tampa also reached the World Series in 2008, losing in five games to Philadelphia.