Are The Rays Set Up To Repeat Last Year’s Magic?

By David Hill

The 2011 Tampa Bay Rays had a miraculous run, coming from 11.5 games behind the Boston Red Sox to get into the playoffs on the final day of the regular season. Evan Longoria‘s dramatic walk off home run in the bottom of the twelfth inning capped an amazing comeback for the Rays, and an equally amazing collapse by the Red Sox.

This season, the Rays were behind the New York Yankees by 10.5 games in the middle of July. Again, the Rays have started a comeback, using their improved health over the course of the last month, along with a possible collapse by the Yankees to climb within three games in the standings. Presently, the Yankees and Rays are in the midst of a three game series, where the Rays won the first game. A sweep of this pivotal series would pull the Rays within a game of the playoffs.

The similarities between the two teams are fairly remarkable. Through September 15th in both seasons, the Rays were three games out of the playoffs. Both squads struggled to hit ranking 12th in batting average, .244 last year and .238 this season. While the Rays got on base more frequently and hit for more power last year, pitching was still the strength of both clubs. last season, the Rays had a 3.58 ERA, ranking second in the American League; this year, the Rays pitching staff has posted a 3.24 ERA, first in the league.

Tampa ended 2011 by going 17-10 in September to make the playoffs. A pivotal series with the Red Sox from September 15 through September 18, where the Rays took three out of four games, helped catapult them back into contention. Presently, the Rays are 7-5 in September, and need another late season run to make the playoffs. Mirroring last season, the schedule has the team they are directly chasing in a weekend series, providing a perfect opportunity to gain ground in the standings.

2012 may end up being a lot like 2011. The Rays themselves and the schedule appear to be set up for a repeat performance of last year. But first, the Rays need to take care of business this weekend.