With eight weeks left in the season, the Rays like where they are.
Leading the American League East by three games with 53 to play, confident their pitching and defense will remain strong and their offense will improve, not intimidated by their competition, figuring their youth and athleticism will offset fatigue and their chemistry and intensity will compensate for a lack of experience.
"It's going to be a very interesting last two months," Rays executive vice president Andrew Friedman said. "We feel with the lead we have, we're in the exact position we want to be in, with the ability to control our own destiny."
I still feel very strongly about our chances," manager Joe Maddon said. "I like the Rays."
Here's a look at how the race stacks up:
The scoop: They don't have a new bat or a fresh arm, but they do have the division lead. (And they could soon add both with the return of OF Rocco Baldelli and promotion of LHP David Price, to the bullpen or rotation.) They take the view that all they have to do is take care of themselves, winning with pitching and defense, and assume the offense will improve.
Why they will win: A relatively easy August, defense doesn't slump, shouldn't get tired, offense has to get better.
Why they won't: A brutal September, concerns about performance of starters and health of relievers, inexperience leads to mistakes down the stretch, offense doesn't improve.
Deadline deals: None
Joe Maddon's take: "Yes, we were trying to improve different areas, but I still like the names in our lineup. We have to continue to pitch at the level we have, we have to continue to make the plays on defense like we have, and I still believe the names in that lineup are going to start hitting."
Games left: 53 (23 home 30 away)
Teams to face: Angels 3, Athletics 3, Indians 3, Jays 6, Mariners 4, Orioles 7, Rangers 3, Red Sox 6, Tigers 5, Twins 4, White Sox 3, Yankees 6.
Red Sox (63-48)
The scoop: No matter how much spin they want to put on it, there's no way to say the Sox are better with Jason Bay than Manny Ramirez; the lineup is just not as fearsome. And they did nothing to improve a mediocre bullpen that has a 3.79 ERA, 17 blown saves and allows 1.4 runners per inning.
Why they'll win: Experience, favorable schedule, strong starting pitching, players are united by Manny trade to prove they can win without him.
Why they won't: Shaky middle relief, David Ortiz doesn't step up, players are divided by Manny trade and can't win without him.
Deadline deals: Acquired OF Jason Bay, below; traded OFs Manny Ramirez and Brandon Moss, RHP Craig Hansen
Joe Maddon's take: "Boston's changed because unless Bay heats up or (J.D.) Drew continues to do what he's done, theycan leave Ortiz exposed a bit now. They've always had that 1-2 combination there. So I'm curious. I'm curious about that dynamic. Drew was so good when we saw them last, that he may render it moot."
Games left: 51 (26 home, 25 away)
Teams to face: A's 1, Indians 4, Jays 12, Orioles 6, Rangers 6, Rays 6, Royals 3, White Sox 7, Yankees 6.
The scoop: After a flurry of moves, the question is whether they got better or just back to even by getting replacements for Hideki Matsui and Jorge Posada. Offense can still be robust, but they're still starting Sidney Ponson and Darrell Rasner twice every five days.
Why they'll win: A-Rod, Jeter, Giambi, Damon, Pudge, Mussina, Pettitte play like it's the old days; power potential, experience down the stretch.
Why they won't: A-Rod, Jeter, Giambi, Damon, Pudge, Mussina, Pettitte play like they're getting old; tough schedule, pitching concerns, lack of depth.
Deadline deals: Acquired OF Xavier Nady, below, LHP Damaso Marte, C Ivan Rodriguez; traded RHPs Kyle Farnsworth, LaTroy Hawkins
Joe Maddon's take: "Bringing in a new catcher like that, I know his track record, but the guy that had been catching there (Jose Molina) was doing a great job for them. So I don't know how that interrupts the chemistry between the pitching staff and the catcher. That would be something that you could have concern about. I think Nady is a fine player, I just don't know how often they're going to use him based on all the available parts that they have."
Games left: 52 (20 home, 32 away)
Teams to face: Angels 7, Jays 9, Mariners 3, Orioles 6, Rangers 4, Rays 6, Red Sox 6, Royals 3, Tigers 1, Twins 3, White Sox 4.
How's September look for the Rays? Pretty rough.
Of their 27 remaining games, 23 are against teams that went into the weekend at .500 or better, and 20 against legitimate postseason contenders, including 12 games in a stretch of 15 against Boston and New York.
"September is a tough month," executive VP Andrew Friedman said. "The way we look at it is that it's good preparation if we want to go deep in October. September is going to take on almost a playoff-like atmosphere, and I think we'll elevate our game during that month."
Getting ahead of things
And what would October look like?
If the standings were the same at the end of the season as they look now, these would be the playoff pairings:
Angels vs. Red Sox
Rays vs. White Sox
Another never-before act: The Rays last week e-mailed season-ticket holders details for buying postseason tickets (they get first crack, can get extras in the upper deck, have to buy for all potential 11 games). … Also, MLB officials will visit this week to check the Trop for playoff accommodation issues. … One right-handed hitter who could clear waivers and be available this month: Detroit's (and Tampa's) Gary Sheffield. … As if Manny Ramirez's 41 homers and .310 average against the Rays hadn't hurt enough, you could argue he cost them the chance to get Jason Bay by forcing the Sox to deal him. … ESPN's Jayson Stark, SI.com's Jon Heyman, Yahoo's Steve Henson, CBSSportsline.com's Danny Knobler all had the Rays among the trade deadline "losers." … A key to the Pirates preferring the L.A./Boston package for Bay was the Dodgers' inclusion of previously untouchable 3B Andy LaRoche. … There's talk of adding a Joe Maddon-influenced wine stand at the Trop called Pino's Vinos. … PETA had the Trop tied for 10th on its annual list of "vegetarian-friendly" parks. … Dwight Gooden told Newsday his life's good and he has been attending some Rays games.
Got a minute? | Carlos Pena
Best meal you make?
That I make? Peanut butter and jelly.
Guilty pleasure at the mall? I always go to the bookstore and browse the magazines, like International Homes. Must-see TV? Discovery Channel, A&E, the History Channel, things like that.
Last movie you saw? Kung Fu Panda, with my daughter (Isabella) and my wife (Pamela).
Dream date? I have to say my wife. I got in so much trouble last time (when he said Catherine Zeta-Jones).