Thought processes and conversations started under the tilted cap of Tropicana Field. Someday everyone will know the Rays play in St. Petersburg, Florida, not TAMPA, or the fictitious city of TAMPA BAY.
Tick Tock goes the Clock
Most of the time getting out of the West Coast road trip over the .500 mark would be considered a major victory of its own. But right now for the Tampa Bay Rays, every loss is putting more pressure on this young team as they try and stay focused, energized and on the heels of the veteran New York Yankees. Sure the road trip came out over .500, which normally would have both the Rays Coaching staff and players enthusiastic, but the conclusion of this road trip also meant the Rays were about to enter the season’s danger zone.
It is that time of the season as it winds down tighter and tighter with every game to finding out if you truly are good enough to win another expensive ring, or if it will all come crashing down like a house of simple playing cards. This one upcoming month will show just what this Rays team is made of, and if they can truly compete late into October. And sure you can say the same about a dozen of other team around Major League Baseball, but this Rays team has consistently hovered near the top all year, and a fall from grace now would be disastrous.
It is that time of the year when every small decision by the team will be thrown immediately under a microscope for examination. The closet Managers will be coming out in force in the next couple of weeks with their own plan of attack or even survival over this 4 weeks of toil and trouble. Every pre and post-game comment uttered will be dissected and analyzed for a potential sign of overconfidence or vulnerability. Even a slight deviation from a players’ usual batting stance or throwing style will be greeted with shock and awe instead of the splendor of its actions.
But then again, that is what you expect out of a stretch run. And that is where a team like the Yankees have a distinctive advantage over the Rays. Not just that they won it all in 2009, but the team is a mixture of veterans and youth, with a few hired guns who know this point in the season like the back of their batting gloved hands. Over the next 35 games split almost evenly at 18 home games, and 17 on the road, the Rays will battle their divisional rivals 25 times including 7 extremely important games in mid-September against the Yankees. Over the course of the next 4 weeks we will see if the maddening rambles of Rays Manager Joe Maddon, plus the health of his Rays players can provide a solid answer, or just another huge question mark.
That is what we seek. A true sense of direction right now with the Rays. Sure we all saw the recent 1-run games that kept all of us up late into the wee hours of the morning during their West Coast safari where they bagged a few much needed victories. But the answer now is if they are going to be able to close those tight contests, fight to the last out, or even keep that sense about them of securing a spot in the playoffs. Websites have predicted the Rays can charge into the postseason in confidence, but with games still in hand, anything can happen…even losses.
Even if this Rays team does go .500 over the course of the rest of the season, will 95 wins be enough to hold off the Boston’s, Toronto’s or even the Chicago White Sox? The percentages tell us they can starve off the scoundrels trying to pry the final prize away from this Rays squad. You can bet every team that faces the Rays from Boston to the Kansas City Royals in that last 4-game road bump will try and play the spoiler right now with the Rays dead center in their sights. You want to say something eloquent and noble right now to send them into this den of success and failure and hope they come out no worst for the wear.
We all knew even back in April that these four weeks near the end of the season would be the pendulum to decide the Rays ultimate fate. It is that time where that bold separation begins to happen between hero’s and zero’s. That slippage of time that can take some predestined by others and throw it into a tumbling mass of internal team turmoil. Maddon has a post-game ritual of wanting his players to forget that night’s contest after 30 minutes, but even in victory now, that contest needs to be pushed aside and focus immediately happen for the next game.
Wins in this stretch run have a more sweet taste to them while losses are intensely bitter. Fate and destiny are no longer seated next to this Rays team. It is about to be time for the Rays to make their own magic, or perish by their own devices. Right now this Rays squad have their own destiny and fate in their hands over the next 35 games. In the end, by hook or by crook, we will know exactly what this Rays team is made of….
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