Thursday, September 4, 2008

Are Rays vulnerable?

People have been wrong about the Tampa Bay Rays a hundred times this season, this blogger very much included. Every time they've seemed to look vulnerable, Joe Maddon's team has reeled off five of six or eight of 10 and put any theories of a meltdown to rest.

I mention this only because they look vulnerable again and it's the Yankees who are reaping the benefits of it. The irony of the situation is that the Yanks are actually doing the hated Red Sox a great service, as Boston and its unstoppable superstar(?) Dustin Pedroia moved within three games of first place following a third straight win Wednesday.

The Yankees continued to do a good job getting ahead early on Wednesday, taking it to on-again off-again talent Edwin Jackson. Carl Pavano, making his third start off the 500-day DL, couldn't make it out of the fourth inning but the Yanks bullpen did the job in clinching a series win over the Rays with an 8-4 victory. New York now leads Tampa Bay 9-5 in the season series.

The game achieved historic footnote status in the ninth inning when A-Rod's long home run to left became the first play to be reviewed under MLB's instant replay system. It took the umpires two minutes, 15 seconds to make the final ruling, dooming Yankees and Rays beat reporters to 2-3 extra slugs in the process. PeteAbe nailed it a couple days ago when he joked that the Yankees would of course end up being the first team to be involved with a replay. Even more obvious was that A-Rod would be at the center of it all.

The Rays don't look very good right now. Their starting pitching has been poor in both games of the series (in fairness the Yanks haven't seen Kazmir or Shields), the defense and baserunning has been suspect, and the lineup isn't very deep at all with Longoria and Crawford on the shelf. And I'm sorry, Troy Percival is going to kill this team in a big spot (or three) before this season is over. By no means am I writing this team off (I'm sick of being wrong), but they are certainly pregnable at this point. It will be very interesting to see where they are 10 days from now.

It's almost certainly too late for the Yanks to catch the Rays in the standings -- they still trail the AL East leaders by 10 games entering Thursday's finale -- but a sweep would certainly keep the juice flowing into the pinstriped life support system. We all know the Yanks' bleak situation at this point in the season, but being the optimist I am, I will continue to track their playoff hopes and bang you over the head with my utter nonsense. Working under the River & Sunset Unofficial Theory Of Survival, that being the Yanks must win 92 games to potentially win the Wild Card, New York must now finish their schedule at 17-6.

Sounds impossible? Kinda, yeah. But it ain't as bad as 20-6. Just keep winning games. As far as the Rays go, it won't be an easy road to thier first AL East title. After Thursday's finale, they will play nine straight on the road, come home for six games against the Red Sox and Twins before closing the season with an eight more games away from the absurd shitbox that is Tropicana Field.

It's not quite an enviable position ... though in truth it's a place the Yankees would give anything to be in right about now. Like most things in life, it's all about perspective.

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