The Red Sox and Rays meet on Tuesday to begin a short series, kicking off an August schedule that will set the postseason picture in the AL East. With Jon Lester and Matt Garza meeting on Tuesday and Brad Penny and David Price squaring off on Wednesday, it's two important games that the Red Sox want to win. But it's two games that the Rays need to win.
It might be premature to say that a two-game sweep at the hands of the Red Sox will end the Rays' season, however mathematically speaking, it will put them in a serious hole and one they might not be able to recover from.
In recent years, the '07 Phillies and Rockies defied all odds to find a way into the postseason, but there is no reason to believe a third miracle in as many years will extend the Rays' schedule into October if they are to fall out of the race this week.
Currently 5 1/2 games behind the Yankees in the AL East and five games back of the Red Sox for the wild card, Joe Maddon's club is quickly taking on water. The Rays might be 10-7 since the All-Star break, but against teams not named the Kansas City Royals they are a disappointing 4-6.
Tampa Bay isn't quite in the mode of "having" to win just yet, but they
are drawing closer with each loss and Yankees and Red Sox' win. Two straight losses to the Red Sox would put them seven back of Boston, and a split would leave them where they stood before the series started. With 56 games left in '09, the Rays can't afford to run in place much longer.
The Rays have eight games remaining against the Red Sox and seven against the Yankees, and it's going to take more than .500 ball, or in this case an 8-7 record, to stay alive, simply because the Yankees and Red Sox still have to play 10 more times, and the Rays will lose ground with any loss during a Yankees-Red Sox series.
Entering Tuesday's game, the Rays have a 29.7 percent chance of making the postseason either as division champion or as the wild card. A sweep at the hands of the Red Sox will take a serious toll on that number and
unless they plan on putting together a magical run the rest of the way (and by magical it means playing .700 baseball or better), their
season would be all but over on August 5.
Right now it looks as though two teams from the AL East will reach the postseason. But with the Rangers playing in the weak AL West, it's hard to count them out just yet since 1/3 of their remaining schedule will be played against the A's, Indians and Orioles.
Two wins against the Red Sox would invite the Rays back into the AL East party, but two losses will put them in desperation mode.
It's a little early to declare a state of emergency in Tampa Bay, but the panic is certainly starting to set in for the '09 Rays.