As recently as August 24th, things were looking up for the Rays in terms of a playoff berth. They had fought back to be in a tie with the Boston Red Sox for the lead in the American League East, and had a four game lead in the Wild Card standings. While it would have been premature to print playoff tickets, the Rays seemed to likely to play in October.
Since then? Disaster. On the 25th, the Rays lost a heartbreaking eleven inning game to the Yankees, which appeared to set off a tailspin. Over the last two weeks, the Rays have gone 4-11, falling 7.5 games out of first. That Wild Card lead has dwindled to the point where they are almost as close to the Yankees as they are the first Wild Card spot.
The Rays problems during this stretch have been multifaceted. Since the beginning of September, the Rays have only scored 25 runs, with seven of those coming in one game, as their clutch hitting has all but disappeared. Evan Longoria and Wil Myers have endured extended cold streaks, leaving James Loney as the Rays best offensive weapon in that time frame. Meanwhile, the Rays pitching has been unable to pick up the offense for the most part. In his last two starts, David Price has looked more like Price from the beginning of the year than the ace pitcher he had been since returning from the disabled list. Chris Archer has lasted a total of 7.2 innings in his last two starts. Things almost seem as though they could not get worse.
However, everything could be better by the time Friday morning roles around. The Rays have a three game set with the Red Sox, and while they are unlikely to catch them for the AL East, the Rays could still serve notice that they are a legitimate contender. With the Indians, Orioles, Yankees and Royals all playing one another, there is the potential for the Rays to open up a gap between them and their nearest competition for the playoffs.
The pitching matchups would appear to be in the Rays favor, with Price, Alex Cobb and Jeremy Hellickson facing Boston. Meanwhile, Boston is sending out the recently activated Clay Buchholz, the inconsistent Ryan Dempster and Jake Peavy. If the Rays can take two of three against Boston, that may be the catalyst they need to shake off their recent slump.
The season is far from over, and the playoffs are not yet assured. However, a solid showing against the Red Sox could go a long way to helping the cause.