Toronto is an American League East division foe, and the Jays know that dropping three to the Rays will be a major setback, and could effectively end their season. And in the next two games, the Rays face Torontos two top starters: A.J. Burnett and Roy Halladay.
With Boston one game behind and New York three down, the Rays simply cannot afford to lose three straight to Toronto. But the way theyve been playing, that looks very possible. The Rays coaching staff, players and announcers all say that these doldrums cant continue, that the hitters are too good and are due to get hot, but weve seen no evidence of it yet.
A few reasons for fans to feel queasy:
The Rays have never, ever been close to the position of holding on to first place this far into the season. Try as they might to play day-to-day, the notion of the playoffs, of being in an actual pennant race, has to be creeping into their minds.
And yet there are 58 games left. Crawford, Upton and several other players have never played meaningful games in late July, and its only natural they should press. (This is all Longoria has known, so, despite being a rookie, he seems the most relaxed.)
The Rays have played a lot of close games, and while that makes for good drama and viewing, it may contribute to the sense of mental fatigue that surrounds the team.
Baseball pundits have been bandying about whether Tampa Bay needs to make a trade before the Thursday deadline. Im not enough of an expert to have a firm opinion on this, but I definitely don't think the team should mortgage the future for a short-term fix. Most of the talk has been about adding a right-handed bat to effectively take over Johnny Gomes role as well as a late-inning relief pitcher.
But I also see a budding problem with the starting pitching (more so than the bullpen). Shields and Kazmir seem to have found their groove (although not yet on the road), and I think Garza has about come of age. But Andy Sonnanstine just looks like the kind of pitcher that hitters tend to figure out; he was very little margin for error. And Im not convinced that Edwin Jackson has his head on straight. Two shaky starters in a five-man rotation can be a perilous situation for a contender. I hope Im wrong about those two guys. It's nigh impossible to land a quality starting pitcher at this juncture.