MINNEAPOLIS -- Instead of a woe-is-me attitude with regard to the Rays' tough schedule down the stretch -- which includes 11 of 15 games with fellow playoff contenders -- Rays manager Joe Maddon is embracing the challenge.
"Our schedule is difficult, no question, but that is a good thing, I think. That really should bring out the best in us. You have to beat the best to be the best," Maddon said.
The last half of September includes four games each with Texas and Baltimore and one more three-game series with the Yankees.
"We have a great challenge ahead of us. Boom. Let's go," Maddon said.
If the Rays perform well against the other contending teams, it could have the added benefit of preparing the Rays to be at the top of their game when the playoffs do begin. And make no mistake about it, Maddon believes that come the end of the season, his team will be in the playoffs.
"The thing I want to believe is that if we push through this, we will be ready and tested at the opening moment," Maddon said.
Heading into Saturday's game with the Twins, the Rays were holding on to the second AL Wild Card spot -- 1 1/2 games ahead of third-place Cleveland and a half game behind the Rangers, who sat in the top spot.
Archer carrying Rays' reliable rookie mantle
MINNEAPOLIS -- Having reliable rookie starters is nothing new for the Rays, and Chris Archer is just continuing the trend.
Archer notched his ninth victory on Friday in Tampa Bay's 3-0 victory over the Twins. For the past four seasons, a Rays rookie has won at least 10 games, so if Archer wins one more, he'll extend the streak to five years. The last time this feat was accomplished was 1947-52, when a Philadelphia A's rookie won at least 10 games in six consecutive seasons.
Rays manager Joe Maddon called Friday start "a perfect night's work" for Archer. He decided to take the rookie out of the game after just six innings and 87 pitches, partly because the Rays are in the middle of a playoff race.
"If it's a good game, you want to take him to what you think the limit is and take him out. If that game happened in July or June, he would've pitched into the seventh, easy, but under the circumstances, right now lets lets be prudent and try to squeeze all the utility we can out of him," Maddon said.
The rookie should have every opportunity to post that tenth win.
"My point is to continue to do what we've been doing. I think he can get three more quality starts," Maddon said.
On Friday, Archer gave up just three hits, struck out seven and didn't issue a walk. The four rookie pitchers the Rays have used this year -- Alex Torres, Alex Colome, Jake Odorizzi and Archer -- have combined to go 14-10 with an ERA of 2.84 and 168 strikeouts over 206 innings.
• Maddon decided to replace Ben Zobrist at second base with Kelly Johnson in the starting lineup for Saturday's game against the Twins.
"I think he's just a bit heavy-legged right now. He's okay. I just think he needed a day off," Maddon said. "With Matt Moore pitching, it's a good day to put Kelly at second base. Kelly has done a nice job at second base for us."
Johnson is hitting .244 with 16 home runs and 51 RBIs entering Saturday's game.
• The Rays would be on the verge of a historic season defensively if not for the Orioles. Entering play Saturday, Tampa Bay has just 54 errors through 146 games, the second fewest after this many games in baseball history. The only team better is this year's Orioles, who have just 43 errors. The record of least errors in a 162-game season is 65 by the 2003 Seattle Mariners.
Joe Kieser is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.