A few days ago, I pointed out to a fellow ninja that the Rays (winners of 6/10) could come back and win the AL East this season. He pointed out to me, as most baseball fans would, that I am nuts. At the moment, the Tampa Bay Rays are 6.5 games down with 2 months remaining, which makes a come back feasible.
“Slow down!” you say, “The Rays offense is abysmal this season, they couldn’t hit if the pitcher was throwing beach balls!!” This fact is true, the Rays indeed cannot hit. MLB Ranks: 20th in runs, 29th in batting average, 27th in slugging %. Going deep into the MLB playoffs usually requires a potent offense, and the Rays do not have one, but great pitching is enough to win a division. One could also point out the Red Sox have been playing well lately (winners of 5/10), and they could steal the East as well.
When the AL East battle is finally done in late September, the Rays will be the winners. The standings will show them on top of a worn-out Yankees team, and looking down at an injury-prone Red Sox team. The Rays will win the AL East with a poor line-up that should improve when Evan Longoria and Luke Scott return from the DL (news is still unclear, but these ninjas believe Longo should be back soon). There are 3 key factors that are positive news for Rays fans: pitching, youth, and ability to beat the Yankees head up.
Remaining schedule: Out of the major contenders in the AL East (Sox, Jays, Yanks, Rays), the Rays have the toughest opponent schedule to face. They also have 29 away games vs. 27 home at Tropicana. Although this is bad news, the Rays are 7-5 vs. New York this season, 5-4 vs. Baltimore, and 5-7 vs. Boston. The Red Sox will get healthier, but their slumping pitching should keep them in 3rd or 4th. Baltimore is fading fast, falling from 5th in ESPN’s power rankings in week 12, to 16th in week 18. This is a two horse race, between the Rays and Yankees.
Pitching: Rays pitching has been phenomenal this year; their consistency is shown in the numbers. Lead by AL Cy Young hopeful David Price, the Rays have posted MLB ranks of: 5th in ERA, 6th in WHIP, and 2nd in batting average against. In case you haven’t been paying attention, closer Fernando Rodney is on pace to join only 11 other pitchers since 1900 to post an ERA under 1.00, and could join Dennis Eckersley as the only relievers with 40+ saves and an ERA under 1.00. During the Ray’s recent 6-4 stretch, which included 3/4 shutouts, manager Joe Maddon said, “As long as our pitchers are on a roll, we have a good shot.”
Head to head: The Rays are not scared of the Yankees; they are 25-21 head-to-head against the Yanks the past three seasons. The Yankees pitching is slumping, posting the highest team ERA in July (3.97) of any month this season. The recent return of Joba Chamberlain to the pen may not be much help, he gave up 2 runs on 4 hits in his return on Wednesday. With shaky pitching, the Yankees could be in trouble. Although they also posted +18 run differential in July to balance their poor pitching, the Yankees lineup will suffer with Alex Rodriguez on the disabled list. The Ray’s younger legs (avg age 28.5 v 29.5) could be a deciding factor in the AL East, but they will have to deal with a deep Yankees offense.
After a win this Wednesday over the A’s, an optimistic Carlos Pena told reporters:
“This is good, this is really good. Winning on the road is always a challenge, I think for every single team. To win on the road is always more difficult people will say, historically. So to come out of this road trip after playing great ballclubs like we did, and win all three series, is a very positive sign. And we want to ride this positive momentum.”
The Rays are confident, even as they find themselves the proverbial David staring up at the Goliath Yankees once again. Many Rays on this years team have been in this situation before at the start of August, and remember how they ended up in the playoffs when October rolled in. Their young pitching and consistent bullpen will carry them through the dog days. Tampa Bay is sitting at 55-50, the same record they had at this point last year. At the very least, we will see the Rays in the wildcard play-in game.
Red Sox, O’s, and Jays fans, I counted you guys out! Let me know why I am wrong:
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