Red Sox Have Chance For Redemption Against Raging Rays

Red Sox Have Chance For Redemption Against Raging Rays It seems that this time of year, every series is being deemed a big series for the AL wild card-leading Red Sox. Every day is a pivotal one, every game is a must-win. The pressure never lets up.

Especially not this week.

The Sox have struggled all season to win big games on the road, but this week, it would really behoove them to figure things out. Rivals in the American League pennant race may be closer than they appear.

The Rays enter this week five games back in the race for that final AL playoff spot. They're slated to take on Boston six times over the next two weeks, which means if the Red Sox aren't careful, this might end up becoming a very close race. Andy Sonnanstine, Matt Garza and David Price will take the mound this week looking to make things close. The Rays are 42-21 at Tropicana Field, one of the best home records in the game, and a strong six-game homestand right now is exactly what they need to get within striking distance.

Look out, Red Sox fans: This thing isn't over. And the Rangers aren't the only AL foe that Boston has to worry about.

Last year, no one expected the Rays to take the American League by storm and make a run at the World Series. No one saw it coming, but that didn't stop the Rays from assembling the game's best defense and one of its best pitching staffs, and putting together the most improbable of 97-win seasons.

This season, we all expected the Rays to come back to Earth a little bit. Everything went right for them last year — every young prospect blossomed, every arm came through, everyone was healthy. And to expect the same good fortune to strike this Rays team two years in a row would seem more than a little crazy.

But this isn't the same Rays team anymore.

Last year's Rays won with pitching and defense. This year, they're knocking the cover off the ball.

No one could have expected that Ben Zobrist, the team's part-time utility infielder, would develop into one of the best-hitting second basemen in the American League. But his .947 OPS and 23 home runs are living proof that once again, the Rays have taught us to expect the unexpected.

Likewise, no one expected Jason Bartlett to explode for a .337 average and 42 extra-base hits. One year, he's a light-hitting shortstop with a slick glove; the next, he's a star. Funny how these things change.

The Rays have always packed a bit of a punch. Evan Longoria, Carlos Pena and Carl Crawford had as big a hand in last year's pennant as anyone. But now, the Rays are more than just a stockpile of arms with a little pop. This year's team has transformed into Murderers' Row.

In terms of talent, these Rays are right up there with the Sox and Yankees. They've been lurking just outside the AL's top tier all season, just waiting to break through — and September's their last chance. They're going for broke now.

If the Rays can go on a run at home this week, they're right back in the thick of things. This is their best shot.

But if they falter, it's a whole new ballgame.

The Red Sox have the Rays pinned and down for the count. With a five-game lead, they can finish things here. Three more wins would be the last three nails in the Tampa Bay coffin.

The Sox spent all August keeping an eye on the Texas Rangers, jockeying for position in the wild card race. But now, with the Rays lurking, the race with the AL's defending champions will come full circle.

The Rays are a serious threat. Everyone expected them to fade away last year, and it never happened. If you're expecting that again this year, then you've got another thing coming. This series is going to be a big one.

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