The Rays schedule has largely been empty of big games lately, but that’s about to change. They just ended a ho-hum stretch against National League teams and then a trip to Minnesota, but now they embark on the most important stretch of the year. They travel to New York for four games, take a respite for four days for the All-Star break and take on Boston for three and the Yankees again for four more games at Tropicana Field.
Obviously, these two teams are standing between the Rays and the postseason both figuratively and in reality. Even a 6-5 record will do a lot towards improving their chances because at the very least, they will stay right where they are–a hot streak away from first place. Joe Maddon has stacked his rotation so that David Price and James Shields could each pitch in every series because of the All-Star break.
The Yankees and Red Sox have the two best records in the American League right now, but seem to me just on the verge of collapse. I have no idea how they have been able to string together long winning streaks with the starting pitching that they continue to trot out to the mound.
Obviously, C.C. Sabathia (12-4) is great for the Yankees, but the rest of their rotation belongs in 2002, not 2011. Bartolo Colon (6-3) and Freddy Garcia (7-6) have given the Yankees more than they ever could have dreamed with ERA’s right around 3.00. Even A. J. Burnett and Ivan Nova have been pleasant surprises. Are all of these pitchers going to continue to be this good? It would be a minor miracle if they could continue this performance.
The Red Sox had more depth (less questions) than the Yankees going into the season, but their rotation is in shambles right now. Josh Beckett (7-3, 2.12 ERA) has been fantastic and Jon Lester has ten wins, but there’s no doubt that the Red Sox are worried about their starting pitching. Lester just went on the disabled list, Buchholz has been on the DL since the Red Sox were in Tropicana Field (with no date of return as of yet) and Daisuke Matsuzaka is out for the year for Tommy John surgery. Of course, their other big gun John Lackey has an ERA near 8.00. Now the Red Sox have to give the ball to the likes of Tim Wakefield, Alfredo Aceves and Andrew Miller. That pitching looks mighty thin.
Of course, both teams can outscore anybody and they often have. That’s why they are in first place. However, these two teams have become what the late 90′s Yankees destroyed regularly in the postseason. The Texas Rangers and the Cleveland Indians of that time had a lot of bats too, but so-so pitching. They had no chance absolutely no chance against the pitching rich Yankees who sent out the likes of Andy Pettitte, David Cone, Orlando Hernandez and David Wells.
The Rays, dare I say, are as close to those Yankees teams as any right now in the American League. They have virtually no questions in their rotation and even if they did, there is plenty of help in the minor leagues as Alex Cobb has shown this year. Their lineup is questionable yes, but does anyone really think that Longoria is going to have as bad a second half as his first? How about B.J. Upton or even unproven hitters like John Jaso or Reid Brignac? Who besides Casey Kotchman has really overachieved so far this year? The Rays have underachieved on offense at almost every position and yet they are still in contention. If Longoria has an MVP level second half, the Rays win this division.