Friday, May 25, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Rays face difficult battle in sturdy AL East

NEW YORK — Perspective is often relative to location. And that is typically the case at this point in the baseball season, where a team's place in the standings is the leading indicator. Except for this season, in the American League East anyway, where the view seems to be the same from the top, the middle, or the bottom — that any of the five teams remains capable of winning, and that nothing likely will be determined until the final week of the season. "It's going to go down to September," Baltimore centerfielder Adam Jones said. "And it's going to be nuts in September. Nuts.

"I hope it's a gauntlet. I hope everyone is playing well come September. Because we're all going to play each other, we're all going to knock each other out, and whoever can take the most blows is going to be the one winning the division. I like it. It's a heavyweight title fight, that's the way it's going to be. A hardcore match."

When play resumes Friday, there will be only 11 ½ games between the first-place Red Sox and the last-place Blue Jays, the most compact of the three AL races.

"Every team is tough," New York second baseman Robinson Cano said. "This is one of the toughest divisions."

More intriguing, the top four teams are all over .500 — and are among the top seven records in the AL — and the Jays are only four under, raising the possibility of a first-ever finish with all five teams posting winning records. (There have been two seasons when all teams in a division were .500 or better, the 1991 AL West and 2005 NL East.)

The chatter among players in the AL All-Star clubhouse at Citi Field was that all possibilities were potentially valid.

For one, they are good.

"Every team has the ability to win the division," Boston second baseman Dustin Pedroia said. "Whichever team plays the best in the stretch run will come up with it. We play each other a lot in the division coming up, so it should be pretty interesting for everybody."

For two, they are all, well, good.

"In any different two-week period, one team can get hot and another one cold, and everything can change quickly," Toronto rightfielder Jose Bautista said.

The Jays, whom the Rays visit this weekend, are the biggest wild card in the race. They assembled the most talent in the division but, to this point, have failed to play up to potential save for a brief two-week stretch when they won 11 straight and 14 out of 16 to get to a season-high two games over .500 on June 23.

Do they battle back and make it a five-team race, or do they drop further back, and potentially start dumping players, and assume a spoiler's role?

"The only thing we can do is play a better or more consistent game because we've struggled at times," Bautista said. "Except for our bullpen, everything has pretty much struggled at some point.

"If you look at our team purely at stats as individuals, a lot of people are playing below their capabilities or what they showed in the past they are capable of doing. Nobody needs to go out and do anything extraordinary. I certainly believe those stats and performances are going to end up at a normal level. We just need to play a solid game as a team and keep grinding it out."

The Red Sox, who are coming off a 93-loss mess last season, have held first place since late May and boast a major-league-best 58 wins, have a similar plan.

They have the league's top-scoring offense, expect to re-insert a healthy Clay Buchholz into a rotation that has been among the best and have the resources to strengthen their bullpen if needed.

"We've just got to keep rolling the way it is," DH David Ortiz said. "Hopefully everything continues the way it was in the first half."

In between are the Rays, Orioles and injury-depleted Yankees, each of whom has had runs as contenders and pretenders.

"It's a battle every time we play anybody in our division," Rays infielder/outfielder Ben Zobrist said. "It's just a bull to take on."

Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]

   
Comments
Rays journal: Blake Snell, flying Denard Span finally solve Red Sox

Rays journal: Blake Snell, flying Denard Span finally solve Red Sox

ST. PETERSBURG — Having lost two straight and nine of 12 times overall to the Red Sox, the Rays needed two things to go right Thursday:First, a strong start from Blake Snell.Second, some early runs against Rick Porcello from an offense that had...
Updated: 9 hours ago
Marc Topkin’s takeaways from Thursday’s Rays-Red Sox game

Marc Topkin’s takeaways from Thursday’s Rays-Red Sox game

Home cooking clearly agrees with OF Denard Span. The 34-year-old Tampa product continues to deliver, producing at the plate, running the bases, making diving catches in the outfield, and Thursday, even going over the short sidewall twice in hot pursu...
Updated: 10 hours ago
Rays once again will ‘open’ with relievers this weekend

Rays once again will ‘open’ with relievers this weekend

ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays weren't kidding about being serious that starting relievers gives them the best chance to win.So much so, they plan to do so again this weekend against the Orioles — in all three games. The plan is for Sergio Rom...
Updated: 10 hours ago
Rays tripling down on starting relievers vs. Orioles this weekend: Romo, Stanek, Romo

Rays tripling down on starting relievers vs. Orioles this weekend: Romo, Stanek, Romo

The Rays aren't kidding about being serious in using relievers to start games.After unveiling the strategy last weekend against the Angels, manager Kevin Cash said they planned to use it again, and he made that official on Thursday, naming Sergio Rom...
Published: 05/24/18
For starters: Rays vs. Red Sox, with Snell on the mound

For starters: Rays vs. Red Sox, with Snell on the mound

Having lost a pair of close games, the Rays will try again tonight to beat the Red Sox, and will have LHP Blake Snell on the mound.SS Willy Adames is in the lineup for the Rays for the third and what is expected to be the final time before being sent...
Published: 05/24/18
Rays morning after: Chris Archer, David Price sure matched up like they meant it

Rays morning after: Chris Archer, David Price sure matched up like they meant it

For two guys who said they didn't make much of matching up, they sure dueled like they did in Boston's 4-1 victory that was decided after they left.Chris Archer, the Rays current top starter, worked six impressive innings, allowing one run and four h...
Published: 05/24/18
Rays journal: Could Sergio Romo be looking at pitching 3 straight games?

Rays journal: Could Sergio Romo be looking at pitching 3 straight games?

ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays' pitching rotation for the weekend series against the Orioles could have a familiar look: Romo, Romo, Romo.Manager Kevin Cash said using veteran right-handed reliever Sergio Romo as the "opener" in all three upcoming g...
Published: 05/24/18
Rookie’s error in 9th helps doom Rays against Red Sox

Rookie’s error in 9th helps doom Rays against Red Sox

ST. PETERSBURG — Willy Adames was so excited to be in the big leagues, even if was for just a three-day cameo callup. So thrilled to make a smashing debut with a homer on Tuesday. So proud to have his parents and sister fly in from the Dom...
Published: 05/24/18
Marc Topkin’s takeaways from Wednesday’s Rays-Red Sox game

Marc Topkin’s takeaways from Wednesday’s Rays-Red Sox game

In a way, the timing of RHP Jake Faria's oblique injury seemed manageable in that RHP Nathan Eovaldi is close to coming off the disabled list and can step in. But on the other hand, the Rays finally could have four regular starters. Imagine that.Ther...
Published: 05/23/18
Rays’ Jake Faria may be out until August, Vidal Nuno called up

Rays’ Jake Faria may be out until August, Vidal Nuno called up

UPDATE, 5:32: Faria is looking at at extended absence, potentially into August. Cash said an estimate of 6-8 weeks was on the optimistic side. "From what we found out he got it pretty good," Cash said.  "So it could be a little bit longer than t...
Published: 05/23/18