ST. PETERSBURG — Mathematically, "must wins" are still months away. But teetering on the fringe of legitimate playoff contention, hosting one of the teams they are chasing, knowing their bosses are likely to use the upcoming All-Star break to assess trade strategy, the Rays acknowledge just how important this weekend's series with Toronto is.
"Huge, dude," said RHP Chris Archer, who starts tonight. "We want to win series, but I want to take all three. And it starts with Game 1. So I'm happy that I'm getting the ball, I'm happy that our team is playing so well defensively and offensively."
Coming off a punch-to-the-gut loss to the Royals on Wednesday, the Rays seek to resume their winning ways —18-10 since June 11 — and finish strong before the four-day break. In doing so, they hope to diminish the possibility that ace LHP David Price, and possibly others, soon will be shipped out.
"It's an important weekend," manager Joe Maddon said. "I've often talked not applying any more weight to any particular game, but I've already said (we're) playing July like it's September right now. … The goal would be to win this series. Anything beyond that would be great; anything less than that is not devastating, but it'd be nice to carry that plan into the break."
Grounded: LHP Erik Bedard said he had nothing to be mad about after being bumped to the bullpen with RHP Jeremy Hellickson's return to the rotation after going 4-6, 4.95 in 15 starts.
"I kind of knew coming in that I was here to help fill in a spot," said Bedard, signed at the start of spring training. "So he came back and I go to the bullpen."
Bedard doesn't have much experience in the 'pen (10 career appearances), and he won't have much of a role, limited to long relief or extra innings. "I'll just do the best I can out of the bullpen and try to help this team win," he said.
The Rays could look to trade Bedard; he said he hadn't thought that far ahead.
Miscellany: LHP Jake McGee is expected to start a two-day paternity leave today; that would allow the team to activate SS Yunel Escobar from the DL without sending anyone down until Sunday. … Injured INF Jerry Sands and OFs David DeJesus and Wil Myers will have follow-up exams today to determine how soon they can resume baseball activities. … Second-round draftee RHP Cameron Varga was named MaxPreps Small Schools Player of the Year. … RHP Kirby Yates was 16-for-16 in converting saves at Triple A; he blew his first big-league chance on Wednesday.