The Rays finally started to play, as Joe Maddon likes to say, “Trop Baseball” this past week. They won seven of 10 and while, yes, they should have won at least seven against teams like Toronto, Oakland and Kansas City, the way they did it certainly has to get Rays fans excited. Just in the past week alone, the Rays had three thrilling walk-off victories. Two of those wins, they grabbed wins from the proverbial jaws of defeat. The wins were as exhilarating as they were unlikely. Consider that the heroes were a rookie catcher (Robinson Chirinos last Thursday against the Blue Jays), Casey Kotchman (his first walk-off homer against the Royals) and then Sam Fuld (who had been relegated to the bench since Desmond Jennings came up). If you haven’t yet, check out this compilation of announcer calls of Fuld’s trip around the bases, including one in Spanish.
Are the Rays in a position to make a big comeback of another kind and make the postseason? Well, they have the schedule to do it. Right now, they are nine and a half games out in the American League East race behind Boston and eight and a half games out in the Wild Card race behind New York. The Rays play the Yankees nine more times and the Red Sox 10 more times, including playing both of them for the next six games. The fact that they play most of those games on the road could actually be a good thing. The Rays are certainly not awed by going into New York or Boston and lest we forget, the last time the Rays were in Boston, they were 1-8. A 16-5 defeat of the Red Sox jump-started the Rays season.
While picking games based on pitching matchups is dicey at best, a look at the starters shows that the Rays might very well be in a very good position. On Saturday, Jeremy Hellickson takes on Phil Hughes and his 7.11 ERA and on Sunday James Shields matches up with Freddy Garcia. The wildcard is tonight when David Price faces C.C. Sabathia. The Rays have not fared very well against Sabathia and Price has been merely average lately. If the Rays want something good to look back on, they should look at September 23 last year when Price outdueled the Yankee lefty and the Rays won 10-3.
The Rays look to have favorable matchups against the Red Sox as well. Fortunately, they will miss (actually they won’t) Josh Beckett and will instead face Jon Lester, Erik Bedard (can’t wait for that after the Rays beat him up less than a month ago) and John Lackey.
Of course, the Rays can’t merely hope to win two of three and get back in this race. I believe they would have to win at least five of these six games to give them a legitimate shot. I personally can’t wait for tonight’s game and I hope the Rays show the same fire and passion that they’ve shown at home. It’s time to show the Yankees and Red Sox that this race isn’t over!