GS: John, does the way the Rays played down the stretch against the worst teams of the American League concern you, or do you think Wilson Alvarez and Ben Grieve will be fine when the lights come on?
JR: It's not just stumbling home with a 5-5 record against the Mariners, Orioles and Royals. It's the fact that it wasn't terribly surprising. The offense has literally been hit-and-miss all season. And the starting pitching started to tank at the end of August. The truth is we have no idea what kind of team is going to show up today.
GS: A desperate one, maybe. They have to win today, don't you think? The rest of the rotation is suddenly like those guys who sang 96 Tears. You remember them, right — ? and the Mysterians.
JR: Oh sure. That was my favorite song when I was 3 years old. But back here in the 21st century, your point is still valid. David Price has to be better than everyone else's ace because this team has been below .500 for the past two months when Price is not starting.
GS: And despite it all, Joe Maddon is still sunshiny. Part of that is Joe. If he was on the Titanic, he'd clap his hands and say, "Look, everyone. Snow cones!" Maddon expects the Rays to be sharp and effective. Is he trying to fool us or himself? Or might he be onto something?
JR: No, I think he's on something. It's the only way you can stay sane while managing an offense that routinely goes an hour at a time without getting the ball out of the infield. And that's just during batting practice. Still, if you take a few steps back, the Rays are probably the most well-rounded team in the AL field. At least, at times. I think. Sort of.
GS: That's why they're here. They certainly didn't slug their way here. But except for the last week, they play great defense. They run like they're mad at the bases. They're deep. But they haven't had a hit since Britney Spears.
JR: No matter how much we whine about the offense — and the two of us can make a room full of preschoolers seem patient and restrained — the postseason will still come down to the starting rotation. The Rays aren't going to win a lot of 7-6 games in October. They need Matt Garza to be intimidating again. They need James Shields to be in control again.
GS: I can't figure out if the Rays are underachieving now, or if they've been overachieving all season long. Remind me, John. How, exactly, did a team that hits like this get here? Better yet, maybe they should remind me.
JR: Basically, they've ridden a very long distance on a very hot start. They were 32-12 in mid May. Since then, they've had the sixth-best record in the American League. That means they were awesome for seven weeks and pretty mediocre for the next four months.
GS: On the other hand, they have played fairly well in big games, and the good news is there will be no Bruce Chen sightings in this series. Look up and down this roster, John, and find an unexpected hero who needs to have a good series for this team to survive. There are a lot of choices, aren't there?
JR: Considering he has a white horse tied to his locker, is it fair to call Dan Johnson an unexpected hero? As long as Carlos Peña remains in a funk, and with Evan Longoria a question mark because of the extended layoff with his quad, Johnson is one of the few power threats remaining in the lineup. I go with him, and Wade Davis. Who do you think will introduce themselves to America this week?
GS: The Rays hope they have the need to pitch, but I'll say Rafael Soriano and Joaquin Benoit. I think everyone knows about their starting pitchers, but the finishing pitchers could be the difference. If you're talking about hitters, how about Peña and B.J. Upton re-introducing themselves? America has forgotten them.
JR: Okay, bottom line: Is this series the beginning or the end?
GS: The season has been too long for a quick end. I see the Rays winning in the 23rd inning of the fifth game on a walk. You?
JR: That's silly. It will be a hit by pitch.