Intensive Battles on the Horizon


To  most people the odd premise of the Meatloaf song, “Two out of Three Ain’t Bad” could be adapted  into the stark reality and finalization of the next final weeks of the 2009 baseball season. Right now, this song can give the Tampa Bay Rays a musical punctuation mark to what must be done for rest of the season to realize their dream of taking this team into the postseason.  And it is a good thing to envision and a positive thing to take two out of three games from your opponents, but what happens if you have only two games (Seattle) or a 4-game series ( Detroit/Baltimore/ Yankees) against an opponent? Do you then have to adjust to winning both of the two games, or three out of four games in that four game series?

Everyone seems to be starting to quoting those cliches right now of “Crunch Time” and “Must Win Situations” when chatting about the Rays chances.  And to me it is all so funny because I have been voicing those concerns ever since April. I actually think that you set up your post season chances in the first three months of the season. Silly losses and unfocused moments rob you of wins that could be valuable right now. But in those early months of the season, people throw around phrases like the gospel according to ESPN that “It is early” or “Not to worry a 7-game winning streak can fix all of this”.

And in those early months you can be that naive about the ending of the season.  Because there was so much baseball to be played, to even thinking of having to buckle down and win at least 2 out of 3  of the rest of your games to get into a spot to claim a Wild Card berth  seemed like odd vision in the early months. Funny, they could even go this route and still come up short of your goal. And to me that is the reality right now. 

Steve Nesius / AP

We need help to get to the post season. We truly do. It is not like this team is not competitive enough or strong enough to take on all comers to get there on their own, but they need help to step up the ladder and take that Wild Card berth. We have exactly 39 games left to our season. And we do have a huge important series lingering against team like Baltimore (8), Detroit (7), New York Yankees (7), Boston (6)and Toronto (6) that will shape the Rays dreams and aspirations for the postseason.

But maybe the remaining teams hidden on that schedule will be the deciding factors in this quest for the playoffs. There is one division in baseball that has handled not only the Rays, but the entire AL East this series in their series. The A L West again might hold the trump cards. The Rays are currently a combined 31-25 (.554) against the above group this season with all of their seasonal series games against Detroit still on the books. 25 of those 39 games are against team that are sporting a .500 record of above this season.

And 27 of those 39 contests are against our American League East foes. The Rays currently have a 27-18 (.600) record against their division in 2009. But not lost on the Rays is the fact that half of their final 32 games are played against the Red Sox, Yankees and Rangers, who all currently have great spot to enter the 2009 post season.

 Those divisional games are important, and could be the fulcrum to balance the Rays towards a eventual Wild Card, but for some reason I am worried about a small set of 5 games more than the divisional tilts. The odd 2-game series against the Seattle Mariners and the 3-game series against the Rangers in late September in the hot box located in Arlington, Texas might be the last grasp at a chance to secure their goals. Those 5 games, not the divisional one could prove to be the teams downfall. And you know that this team has been simply miserable against the A L West division in 2009.

But I am not panicking or even about to spout defeatist venom yet. Sure this 7-game road trip envisioned by Rays Manager Joe Maddon to be the “Ring of Fire” could actually be the hot box they need right now to get into mental and emotional shape to grind out these last 39 games. But for their goals to still be on track, they need to take at least 4 or 5 of the seven games on the slate.

Steve Nesius / AP

And there is nothing that Detroit would like better than to pop down the Rays because they could end up being an opponent in the playoffs.  The Tigers would love to send the Rays back home with their barbs between their fins and have to regroup and reformulate a plan to get them to their goals.  Right now there are a few teams sitting there waiting for their chance at us again knowing that a victory by them can end this Rays drama in 2009.

Now the Rays front office is already secure in the fact of offering our 2009 Postseason Ticket packet prices and options to us in the mail the last few days. In it I saw that the package in 2009 for my seat will cost me $ 1080. That is a bit higher than last season, but you have to admit, we have expected more out of this team in 2009. And this Rays squad has the talent and the abilities to thrust themselves right up into that Wild Card mess and make it interesting all the way to their last game on October 3rd against the Yankees at home.

And believe me, I do not want to be watching football during the weekends in October. I would rather be sitting in my seat at Tropicana Field seeing these same Rays fighting for a chance to redeem themselves on the World Series stage again. But in the Rays post season packet is the message that any money or tickets not used this postseason will be adjusted and placed in our accounts for our 2010 Season Ticket purchase.

And I have faith in their chances and abilities to again celebrate and enjoy their moments with the fans in securing a second romp into the postseason dance. I will send in my money hoping and praying for a chance to again sit there and maybe catch two more foul balls during the American League Divisional Series. I hope to be sitting in the Trop for a pivotal game in the ALCS, and might even have a chance to see another first pitch at a World Series game placed in the dome. If not, I know my money will be there for me to enjoy another year where promise and hope will reign heavy again in April, May and June.


Get Ready for a Power filled Series


Steve Nesius / AP

It is that time of the season where a single loss can be a train derailing event towards a successful run at the postseason. Every single nuance of the game has to be clicking in rhythm from the get-go or the dream could come shattering down on you like a broken pane of glass. With the Tampa Bay Rays about to a begin a 3-game weekend set against the team many around baseball have dubbed the “2009 Rays”,maybe it is time for them to remind people around baseball that they are still in this American League Wild Card race.

So what if the Texas Rangers have been anointed this seasons “Rays”. Funny,but aren’t those pesky Rays still only 3 games behind the Rangers and 4 games behind the Boston Red Sox stalking both team’s every moves,and daily taunting them to lose so the Rays can creep up in the standings. Aren’t these the same Rays that people have put in correlation with the “2007 Colorado Rockies” and have stated time and time again will not repeat into the 2009 Playoff scene. How dare those Rays make ESPN’s Baseball Tonight look like fools. They do such a good job of that all by themselves. 

But there is a problem with that premise….Someone forgot to tell the Rays they are not suppose to be in this thing. But the honest truth is that all of this can change in the blink of an eye this weekend. With all three of the  current contenders for the Wild Card race playing key opponents this weekend,separation in the standings will occur this weekend,by hook or by crook.

The Red Sox host the New York Yankees for three while the Rays tuck a 3-game series against the Rangers into the weekend. This combination of six games could,and should bring about a better overview of the Wild Card hierarchy for the last four weeks of the season. After these two series conclude,someone will be chasing someone else for that last spot into the 2009 playoffs. And behind it, the reality, that another team could begin a free fall that will fade them from the Wild Card. 

Jim Prisching / AP

Not to say that the Yankees have the A L East division all locked up yet,but a major fall from grace would have to occur,and all the stars align just right for the Rays to again take the A L East crown. But right now,all the Rays fears and the attention has to be on a team that really does mirror the 2008 edition of the Rays in so many ways. And with Elvis in the building,you never know what is going to happen.

But the key to this series is going to be all about power. Power hitting and power pitching might be the key elements to post a series win, and a leg-up in the Wild Card race. If the Rays take the series 3-0, it could boost them to within one game of the Rangers, and depending on what happens in Boston, could get them within a few games of the top spot. But it is going to be pure adulterated power that defines this series.

And both teams have the power in their line-ups to take any of these game into routs in a single innings. Both the Rays and the Rangers have done just that this season. Each teams boasts a A L MVP candidate, and a A L Rookie of the Year candidate, and both could be riding high after this series. But as usual in events that place power above all else, it could be the simple fact of control pitching and getting first pitch strikes that dominates this series.

And both teams have competent pitching staff from the starters to the closers that could take either team out of rally situations with a single pitch. But that is the fun of it all. To see if Scott Kazmir tonight can get a blast of the past glory and take down the Rangers early and often and control the plate. Or if it is going to be Dustin Nippert, who is 2-1 with a 4.21 ERA in his 4 starts this season taking control of the Rays and shutting them down.

But there might be a slight advantage to the Rays right now just based on the pitching match-ups for the weekend. The Rangers are going to send three straight right-handers to the plate to combat the left-handed Rays. That could play right into the Rays hands as they have feasted on right-handers in 2009. But this is not so one-sided as it might seem. The Rays will combat this with the hard-throwing Kazmir going tonight, then follow with another power pitcher Matt Garza on Sat. night. The series will conclude with rookie David Price taking the mound Sunday.

But the Rangers also boast a pretty good offense themselves this season.  The Rangers have hit a total of 181 home runs this season easily out-pacing the Rays 155 so far in 2009. And both teams are only .007 clicks away in team average this year. This could be a well-balanced series with defensive mistakes proving to be the big indicator of the series winner. The Rangers are modeled after the Rays successful defensive philosophy,and is currently ranked 8th in the AL in total defense. The Rays sit  about 3 slots below Texas at this time.

But even with the Rays defense having an off year, the Rays have a distinctive advantage on the base paths over the Rangers in this series. So could Carl Crawford, Jason Bartlett and B J Upton prove to be turning points in this series? Only if they get on base and have the right situations to steal bases and get into the Rangers pitching staff’s heads. 

The entire series might come down to the basics of baserunning.  If the Rays get the chance to run, it might be a long night for Texas. But if Texas can control the running game and keep the Rays out of scoring chances, it might turn towards the Rangers advantage. Right now I am feeling confident on the Rays chances to get close again in this Wild Card race.

Marc Avery / AP

Rich Herrera, who does the Rays Postgame Show on the radio always says, “The next game is the most important game of the season.” And that is so true. They are all equally as important as wins to get to that spot you want to be in before that last series of the year against the Yankees in Tropicana Field.

Hopefully at that point the Rays will have either made their play, or will still be right in the thick of it up until the end. Either way this series might be a chance for the Rays to make a statement against all those so-called experts who have doubted, and rooted against the team for most of the season. It is time to play the “Rays Way” and then let the cards fall where they may.