After 96 games, the Rays currently sit as one of the two Wild Card teams in the American League, and are only 2.5 games behind the Boston Red Sox for first place. With just over 40% of the season remaining, every game as the Rays come down the stretch will have that much more meaning.
Even though the Rays went into the break on an incredible hot streak, going 12-2 over their last fourteen games, their competition was not exactly the creme de la creme of baseball. The Astros, White Sox and Twins have been utterly pathetic this season, with a combined winning percentage of .392. The Astros have been in sell mode since the end of 2012, and the White Sox have already begun moving pieces to contending teams. It is not as though the Rays were facing the 1927 Yankees or the 1984 Tigers.
The Rays schedule to start off the nominal ‘second half’ of the season is far more difficult. The Rays come back with a three-game set against the Blue Jays, who have played much better over the past month and still feature a dangerous lineup. That series is followed up by a four game set against the division leading Red Sox, which may end up turning into a battle for first place. Then the Rays have a three game series against the Yankees who, while they may be scuffling, are still a veteran team with players that know how to win and could very well get back into the race with a run.
The Rays have one of the two most difficult schedules in the American League in the second half of the season. Thirty-six of their final 66 games come against the AL East, with nine against the Red Sox and seven against the Orioles. The Rays also have games against Oakland, the Rangers and a surging Dodgers club. As much of a struggle as the first half of the year may have been, the second half may be just as bad, even if everyone is healthy.
Tampa is in a nice place right now, occupying one of the two Wild Card spots. However, they will be in for a fight to remain there, let alone move up. Rays fans better hope that this team has what it takes to survive.