Make us your home page

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

AL East's beasts stand in way of Rays' progress

ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays are absolutely, positively convinced they have gotten better. But to really get anywhere in the American League East, they know they still have to push past the heavyweight Yankees (if that's okay with manager Joe Girardi), Red Sox and Blue Jays.

"We believe that we're better, but I think the American League, and the American League East specifically, are going to tell us how much better we are this year than in the past," Rays manager Joe Maddon said.

"Theory is one thing, reality's something else and I'm really pragmatic when it comes to that stuff. … We'll know we're better by the number of games we win and how we match up when we play these guys 18 times each."

Though it's only spring training — when teams apparently aren't supposed to play hard, as Girardi said, then the Yankees proved it by signing actor/comedian Billy Crystal to suit up for them Thursday — the Rays will get a reminder of what they're up against the next three days as they, um, collide with the Yankees (with both teams saying Saturday's controversy is behind them), Red Sox and Blue Jays in order.

Though they've spent most of the past 10 years looking up at the trio, the Rays insist the view is changing and that the Red Sox and Yankees, who've finished first and second nine of the past 10 years, will soon realize it.

"This is the AL East, enough said," ace Scott Kazmir said. "But with the young, fiery guys we have here we can compete with anybody. We know that, and they know that. …

"I think you just can't have one or two teams to measure how we're doing. We get off to a good start, who knows what might happen. I think with Toronto, with the guys they have, and with the way we improved our team, I think it's going to be a fight."

That view is not limited to the Tampa Bay clubhouse.

Yankees outfielder Johnny Damon said he considers the Rays "a very scary team" that could have contended in other divisions, and admits the status may no longer be quo.

"I think the Jays may be the team to beat in our division," he said in Tampa. "I think their pitching, top to bottom, is the best in both leagues, and they've made improvement. You can't predict anything. If the Rays get off to a good start, they can go with a lot of confidence. And it could be a totally different division."

The view is the same from Fort Myers, where Boston starter Tim Wakefield also said the Rays made themselves better. "It's never been easy, and now they're going to be a very tough team to play," Wakefield said. "I think we're going to have a situation where there are some teams in that division that can knock each other off."

After finishing last in nine of 10 seasons (ahead of the Jays in 2004), the Rays figure things have to be looking up. And as much as the Yankees and Red Sox have been in their way, the biggest measure of progress may be in how they've widened their view.

"The Yankees and Red Sox are two of the best teams in the league hands down," Rays starter James Shields said. "But we haven't had troubles with them in the past. They're just another team that's coming through. …

"We have to beat them to win the division, bottom line. But we're going to take the approach that we play our game and not play up to their expectations. Everyone thinks of them so highly, but we're going to just play our game and I think everything will be fine."

Marc Topkin can be reached at


Eastern view

How tough has the AL East been for the Rays? Here are their records against each team last year, and in their 10-season history:

Rays vs. 2007 Overall

Blue Jays9-9 75-92

Orioles7-11 75-93

Red Sox5-13 58-111

Yankees8-10 55-111

And here is how they've done within the division compared to against other teams:

W-L Pct.

Overall645-972 .399

vs. AL East263-407 .393

vs. others382-565 .403

AL East's beasts stand in way of Rays' progress 03/12/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 12, 2008 5:32am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Muslim faith greater than fear for Wharton's Rania Samhouri (w/video)


    TAMPA — Rania Samhouri graduated Monday night from Wharton High School, and many times throughout the ceremony she flashed back to a moment that changed her life.

     Rania Samhouri stretches after track practice on Monday April 24, 2017 at Wharton High School in Tampa, Florida. Rania, who is Muslim, recently started wearing her hijab during track competitions. She graduates from Wharton this year and will attend University of South Florida on scholarship next year.
  2. Bucs' Doug Martin relying on strength from drug rehab to power his return


    TAMPA — He would not talk about the drug he abused. He would not identify the rehab facility he entered in January or how long he was there.

    Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Doug Martin participates in an "open OTA practice" at One Buc Place, the team's training facility, in Tampa, Fla., on Tuesday, May 23, 2017.
  3. NCAA: Former USF basketball assistant gave improper benefits


    TAMPA — Former USF men's basketball assistant coach Oliver Antigua provided impermissible benefits, including lodging at his home, for two prospective student-athletes while they received on-campus tutoring, according to findings reported to the school by the NCAA.

  4. Back to .500, Rays feel ready to roll (w/video)

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — Who wants to be mediocre? Middling? Average? Run-of-the-mill?

    Rays catcher Jesus Sucre tags out the Angels’ Mike Trout trying to score from second base after a perfect peg from rightfielder Steven Souza Jr. in the first inning.
  5. Rays journal: Steven Souza Jr. preserves shutout with perfect throw

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — The closest the Angels came to scoring off RHP Matt Andriese in Thursday's 4-0 Rays victory occurred in the first inning, when DH Mike Trout tried to score from second on a single to right. But the throw from RF Steven Souza Jr. was on the money, and Trout was out.

    "That …

    Colby Rasmus collects high fives and shoulder rubs after driving in all four of the Rays’ runs in their victory Thursday. Rasmus had two run-scoring hits a day after hitting a home run.