The season goes on for another 2 1/2 months, and there’s always the possibility for stunning things to happen late, but the AL East race could be defined, if not essentially decided, by the end of this week.
The Yankees lead the Rays by six games going into a four-game series that starts tonight and this will be their final meeting until a two-game set the final week of the season, Sept. 24-25.
If the Yankees were to sweep, the Rays would be 10 games out and might as well start focusing on coming out atop the wild-card race, so they could host the one-game playoff at a (presumably) sold-out Tropicana Field.
If it's 3-1 either way it's a two-game swing, and a split is obviously status quo.
And if the Rays sweep, they'd be just two games back and it's off to the races over the final 63 games.
Adding to the urgency for the Rays, they have struggled at Yankee Stadium, going 1-5 this year and losing 14 of their past 15 series.
So what to make of the showdown series, with Blake Snell getting things going tonight facing James Paxton?
Here’s a sampling of what the Rays are saying about the games, and with some help from Kristie Ackert of the Daily News, the Yankees as well:
Blake Snell, Rays
“They’re huge. Because you know (even) if we win as much as we know we should, it’s still going to come down to the wire, especially in this division. Someone’s winning 100 plus games. At least two teams I think honestly.”
Aaron Judge, Yankees
"Every series with them is going to be big, especially coming around the trade deadline, because if we lose a couple more games to them, they go out and bolster their rotation and bolster their roster, whatever they are going to do, they can catch steam there at the end of the season. That’s going to make it tight at the end of the year.
“Our main goal is to get the biggest lead we can, so we can go into the playoffs and rest some guys if we need to and be in the right position going into the playoffs. So every series, especially the one coming up against these guys, is important. You can’t sleep on any team in this division, especially them.”
Kevin Kiermaier, Rays
"We have to prove to ourselves and to everyone else that we can beat the best teams in baseball. We need to win in their environment, in their domain in their setting. That’s what the best teams in baseball do, win on the road in hostile environments. ...
“They feed off their fans. They play really, really good there. It’s one of those things we need to always have those reminders. We know we can beat any team in baseball but it’s one of those things in the environment like this, where we’re hoping to be playing these guys again after the regular season, where we have to find ways to win. Do extra, do whatever the extra things are to let you stayed in the games and not let their crowd affect you.”
James Paxton, Yankees
“It’s big. Every game is big, especially against people in our division. That can separate ourselves and them by a game every time we win a baseball game. We can win this series with them, we can put ourselves in a really good spot going forward. We’re in a pretty good spot now. But now, moving forward, if we can win this series against them, it will just further us in the position we want to be in.”
Joey Wendle, Rays
“I think we know we can play well there, we definitely have had some good series in that stadium. It’s just a matter of doing it. It’s kind of quieting the noise and really honing down on what we know we can do.”
DJ LeMahieu, Yankees
"Feel like at this point we’re pretty familiar with them, it seems like we play them every week. ... We won’t (see them again for a while), until the last week. I think if we just stay focused and keep playing good baseball like we have been all year, we’ll be fine. I know we’ll be ready for them though, because it’s a pretty big series.
“We’ll be focused for them, we’ll be ready for them. I think if we play really good baseball, it’s a chance to put ourselves in a really good position. Not that we aren’t already, but if we play really well, we can really distance ourselves. I don’t think the Red Sox and Rays are going anywhere. They are going to make it tough on us and the rest of the league for the rest of the season.”