But as the Rays, now all but eliminated in the wild-card race, invade Fenway for a wet weekend series with the Sox, they offer a sign of caution for Red Sox Nation.
As it stands now, all is well with the Red Sox. Most folks like Boston's chances in a two-team race with Texas, citing numerous advantages for the Sox. Josh Beckett and Jon Lester over Scott Feldman and Kevin Millwood? That's easy. A lineup that bats J.D. Drew eighth over one missing two of its superstars in Josh Hamilton and Michael Young? Again, advantage Sox.
Still, it wasn't long ago that it was a three-team race. Seemingly all year, the Rays were kept at bay by AL opponents, but nobody wanted to rule them out of the playoff race. Their big chance to make the leap to the forefront of the playoff picture came on the first day of September, when they opened a three-game set against the Red Sox in St. Petersburg.
Standing six games back of Boston, a sweep would immediately make the Rays contenders — maybe even favorites — to grab the final playoff spot for the AL.
That, however, didn't work out for the Rays, who dropped two of three to the Sox to kick off an eight-game losing streak. In the matter of a week, playoff hopes were dashed. Rays outfielder Gabe Kapler nearly admitted as much to NESN's Heidi Watney.
"Mathematically, there's still a chance for us to be a part of a playoff push at some point if things go magically right for us.," said Kapler, who was with the Brewers' during their postseason run last year. "The last eight games have been really difficult. Coming into Fenway, we were expecting to have an opportunity to take a lead in the wild-card race or at the very least draw within one or two games.
"To be sitting where we are right now, there's no way to sugarcoat the fact that that stinks."
As the Rays fell to 9 1/2 games back in the wild-card race in that eight-game span, all but one loss was by three runs or fewer. That's the way the ball bounces sometimes, and with the Sox playing three games in the span of 20 hours or so this weekend, there's no time for Red Sox fans to relax just yet.
That's not to say there's cause for panic in the Nation. Instead, the Rays' descent is more of a reminder that all teams can take a turn for the worse faster than you can say Hunter Wendelstedt. (Red Sox fans need look no further than a certain five-game series at Fenway in 2006 for proof.)
Still, the Red Sox should make the playoffs. They are better than the Rangers, and they don't have to log half the travel miles. But while the Red Sox may be in a better position than the Rangers to secure a playoff spot, it remains true that a lot of baseball has yet to be played.
Almost ironically, as two teams dodge raindrops at Fenway Park, it could be the Rays that either make or break the Red Sox' chances over the course of three games.