Although they have shaved off roughly half of their deficit in the wild card race in the past few weeks, the Tampa Bay Rays are not getting much love in one department. In a perfect world, they would see the New York Yankees increase their lead in the American League East, but that hasn't happened since Monday.
Why, you ask, would the Rays want one of the teams they trail in the division to run away and hide? It's simple. If the Yankees had been winning while the Red Sox were losing this week, they would have gained significant separation in the division. If they gained some separation in the division, then they might feel inclined to take their foot off the gas and begin to rest their regulars once the Rays come to town in 10 days. If they take their foot off the gas in any of the seven remaining games between Tampa Bay and New York, perhaps the Rays find an opening in that final week to finish off the comeback.
It's impossible to predict how any of the games will play out as the top three teams focus the bulk of their energies on division opponents (Tampa Bay and Boston meet six more times; Tampa Bay and New York meet seven more times; Boston and New York have three meetings left). What we do know is that while the Red Sox are wasting an opportunity to put away the Rays, the Yankees might be missing their chance to put away the Sox. (In turn, Boston is missing out on its opportunity to catch New York.)
That does nothing to help out the Tampa Bay cause, and it doesn't get any easier for New York, which had to endure a rain-soaked, four-game, two-city series with Baltimore before heading to Anaheim to start a nine-game road trip. The Yankees, who lost to Jered Weaver and the Angels on Friday, face Dan Haren on Saturday, Ervin Santana on Sunday and Felix Hernandez in Seattle on Monday.
The division just might remain up for grabs, even if Boston continues its slide.
Just imagine if that wasn't the case. Maybe the Rays, instead of facing Bartolo Colon in one of those meetings in New York, get to see a minor-league call-up in a game that amounts to nothing for the Yankees other than an opportunity to rest a starter. Or maybe they take on a lineup similar to the one Joe Girardi used against Baltimore the other day, when he employed a boatload of bench players in the day game after a very, very late night game.
Among the starters for Girardi that day were Eduardo Nunez, Andruw Jones, Brandon Laird, Greg Golson and Ramiro Pena. The Orioles won.
Essentially, as Tampa Bay has to play every game as if it is its last, it wants New York to get to a point (by the time the teams meet Sept. 19) where it has to play every game just because it's on the schedule. As long as the Yankees continue to slide, something which may occur as long as the Bronx Bombers run the gauntlet out west, that may never occur. The division, as well as the wild card, will hang in the balance, and all three teams will have plenty to play for.