BOSTON — Are the Tampa Bay Rays done? It certainly seems as if many observers in Boston and New York have begun printing their playoff tickets, already relegating the pesky Rays as also-rans.
But can you count out that third team in the American League East just yet?
History, and the schedule, would suggest that it may be a tad premature. Rays manager Joe Maddon suggested as much when he tweeted at the end of July that he is "a believer" in his team's ability to make a historic charge.
Maddon supported his claim by pointing out the 1995 season, during which he was on the coaching staff of a California Angels team that entered Aug. 16 leading the Seattle Mariners by 12 1/2 games, only to lose all of that advantage and then collapse atop a list of all-time choke artists with a one-game playoff loss to the M’s.
Since making that reference, Maddon’s crew has won nine of 13. He tweeted Aug. 5 that the team just needs to pick up one game a week. Well, it’s been a little more than a week since then, but the Rays have gained one game on both the Red Sox and Yankees and enter Aug. 16 staring at a nine-game deficit. If one of those two teams stumble, and Tampa Bay stays hot, there could still be a three-team drama.
One might read that and let loose a belly laugh, but consider the schedule. Including three games in two days in Boston this week, the Rays have 10 remaining games against the Red Sox and six against the Yankees. With a quality pitching staff, winning 60 or 70 percent of those games is never out of the question.
A bad July (11-15) came at an awful time for Tampa Bay, as both Boston and New York played well. However, the Rays have turned things around in August and still have a tiny opportunity in which to create an exciting September.
If the Sox sweep a doubleheader Tuesday, that tiny opportunity becomes microscopic. At that point, another belly laugh may be in order. But for now, don’t quit on Maddon’s bunch just yet. He remains a believer.