"Winning the division is what we've been shooting for all year," pitcher Scott Kazmir said. "Like what we said at the All-Star break, we don't want to settle for anything less."
True to form, Tampa Bay won four of its following five games before losing two in Detroit, and clinched the American League East title with Boston's loss early Saturday morning.
After their loss to the Tigers on Friday night, the Rays were eliminated from having the best record in the American League. The Angels won that honor, and with it the choice of which Division Series schedule to follow.
The Angels opted for the longer of the two AL series. The Angels and Red Sox will open Wednesday in Anaheim, have an off-day, play Game 2 on Friday, have a travel day, then play Game 3 and possibly Game 4 in Boston. Then would come another travel day, if necessary, and Game 5 back in Anaheim. That will afford both clubs use of a three-man starting rotation.
The Rays will open at home next Thursday and Friday against the winner of the AL Central, either Minnesota or the Chicago White Sox. A travel day will follow, then Game 3 and a possible Game 4 will be played at the Central winner's home field. Should the series be tied 2-2, there'd be another travel day prior to a Game 5 in St. Petersburg.
With a more compact series, it pretty much ensures a four-man starting rotation will be used by each club, something that shouldn't affect the Rays, who have a deep starting staff.
"We figured they would pick Wednesday," Rays manager Joe Maddon said after the club's clincher in Detroit. "We will decide our starting pitching on Monday. This shouldn't impact anything. It's kind of like what we thought."
Added Andrew Friedman, the Rays' executive vice president of baseball operations: "It's certainly helpful for us in terms of preparation. Obviously some of it depends on who we're playing. Knowing we're playing on Thursday is helpful. After we know who we're playing, we'll be able to make some decisions."
The only question that remains is who the Rays' first-round opponent will be.
Tampa Bay does know its opponent in the best-of-five AL Division Series will be the Central champion -- either Minnesota or Chicago. The Rays are 3-3 against the Twins and 6-4 against the White Sox this season.
"I think regardless of where [else] we play," pitcher James Shields said, "if we have more games at home, it's a big advantage for us."
The Rays are a Major League-best 57-24 in their home dome, including a 21-2 home record in front of crowds of 30,000 or more. Those only two losses came on Opening Day (to Seattle) and in the regular-season home finale (to the Twins).
Brittany Ghiroli is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.