Results tagged ‘ American League East ’
Starting to wonder if the American League East has hit a bit of parity amongst the division. I know we sample from this buffet every year at this time as all 5 members of the division sit at or near the top of the table. No matter if their respective records illustrates a first taste of divisional morsels like the Red Sox devouring the Tampa Bay Rays during their recent road trip, or the New York Yankees falling prey to the Rays in a season opening series. Every season at this juncture we wonder if our team is that good, or if they are still shaking off the Winter rust.
You want to think it is just that sampling point in the season where teams come together as they begin their yearly journey to either the penthouse or the basement, but something tells me this season this division might be a closer race, have some interesting plot twists and maybe even an unexpected divisional leader heading into May. Sure all 5 teams in this deemed “hardest division in baseball” have met their own shares of adversity already this early in the season, but will someone separate themselves from the pack soon, or will this group maintain their equality for a few more weeks before either their respective balloon bursts, or they rise to the top.
I want to thrust out my chest and paraphrase American Idol’s Randy Jackson That “The Rays are in it to win it!”, or just “gotta have it!” I truly feel we have the right stuff to post up in the top tier of this division, but we are only a tad over 10% completed with the season. Looking at the standing and seeing Boston 4 games back as the rest of the division sit comfy at 10-7 is a bit perplexing considering each of us have only sampled a bit of our divisional team’s offering so far in 2012, possibly we will know more by mid-May on who truly wants to hoist the 2012 AL East banner next Opening Day.
The Toronto Blue Jays have seen their own version of the Rays young guns come through on the hill so far in 2012. Posting up impressive wins and stats early on with the young talent they have either home-grown or acquired in trade. The Jays offense has shown power and prowess, but has not shown their true muscle yet. It seems like a yearly tale that the Jays sit a top the AL East early before they begin to string together losing streaks that take them down further in the standings. I somehow think the Jays are for real, and might sit near the top until the end of May…if not longer.
Baltimore is beginning to mold its own home-grown hurlers like those ripe and juicy offerings from Earl Weaver’s tomato patch, but will they ripen too fast and fade in the Summer heat, or maintain a bit of consistency and strike some fear in the usual top tier threesome of the Rays, Yankees and Red Sox. Even as the Rays reconfigure their offense’s timing and their pitching staff mellows out, this division is not a 1 or 2 trick pony anymore. Teams will have to work for the free pass via the AL East title now, and the extra Wild Card berths do not have a pre-stamped AL East invite.
That could play big into the Rays, Red Sox and Yankees plans as in September when the division does their yearly last gasp in-fighting, the loser of the seasonal series could find themselves seeking help, or possibly be eliminated by one of their own divisional rivals. There has been a rumor the extra Wild Card slot was devised so a Boston or New York doesn’t miss the Fall party, but I have a feeling in 2012, it will all come down to the last few weeks.
Sure I’m rambling on a bit, but I do that at times to fuel the furnace or cool the jets. I truly think the Rays have the tools and the machinery in-house right now to contend and go far this Fall, but only 17 games out of the shoot, I’ll let the teams in the Northern parts of the country spout that logic. The AL East divisional winner will not boast over 100 wins, they might actually be closer to 90 than the century mark. But these 5 teams will decide more than just who can thrust their hands into the air, but first we got to find out who is for real, and who is just riding luck’s coat tails until they fall from grace. Got an odd feeling it might not be the obvious choices this season.
Something tells me this is going to be a long 30 days for the Tampa Bay Rays as they march towards determining their post season fate. Little voice in the back of my head is telling me that this surge of the Tampa Bay Rays towards their third possible slot in the post season in 4 seasons might have a few unforeseen surprises, and a chance for them to ambush their opponents who underestimate this young Rays brigade.
Hope the Rays clubhouse leadership can firmly make their comrades aware of the many pitfalls and land mines still hidden from their view on their quest. Some around baseball have said this Rays aggressive march could end up be a suicide mission, that every member of this team will have to leave everything they have within themselves nightly out on that diamond fighting tooth and nail to their last swing or toss to bring about October glory again.
The Rays still have enough games against the New York Yankees (6 games) and Boston Red Sox (7 games) to make their September campaign work to their advantages. This well thought out and aggressive maneuvering of Rays Field General Joe Maddon is going to encounter a few incredibly steep inclines with a slippery and icy slope. In other words, it is not going to be a walk in the park if the Rays want to celebrate in October.
This same Rays squad has shown this season they are up for the challenge, and have succeeded when their backs have been against the wall. That kind of mental toughness and commitment could be instrumental over the coming weeks, especially when the darkening shadows try to overtake Tropicana Field during their 15 home contests.
If the Rays want to truly make it into those meaningful games in October, they will have to earned it with sweat, hustle and a little hemoglobin upon the AstroTurf. Not trying to throw a irrepressible dark cloud upon the Rays march towards October, but there might be a few things the Rays Republic might want to consider before buying your celebration champagne.
The Rays have an all time record of 133-209 or a less than joyful .389 winning percentage during the month of September. To put an even bigger haze on the prize, September has been the Rays worst month to garner wins in the franchise’s short history. In their previous 13 Major League Baseball campaigns, the Rays have never even hoisted a single “W” above the .500 mark for the month.
The only other times the Rays have even come close to the “even-Stephen” mark was during their two previous romps towards the post season. In 2008 and 2010 the Rays had to post 13-14 marks during the month to even get a chance to celebrate along with the fans.
But it will take a few lucky breaks, a 4-leaf clover or two, and possibly each and every member of the Rays Republic frantically rubbing their rabbit’s foot to get the Baseball Gods into letting this same Rays team parade into the October sunlight. Considering how they started their 2011 season, this would be a colossial achievement for this team. Some have already said it will take a perfect storm, a universally aligned divine intervention for the Rays to stay above that .500 horizon during this grand march towards their 2011 destiny. Doubters beware of the Rays magic.
There are only 26 Rays contests left in 2011, and with the Rays squad hovering between 7.5 and 9 game back of their Northern rivals, defying their past September history would be an epic achievement. The Rays still have 13 games against the 2 teams above them in the AL East, and these same rivals have 4 more battles between themselves that could make the AL East standings a little more interesting come the final weeks of the season.
By the conclusion of the Rays and Red Sox 4-game battle ending on September 11th, the Rays should have a more realistic view of their fate, destiny and dreams. It is going to be a rough road as the Rays battle their own AL East members during 22 of their final 26 contests, even playing host to the always aggressive Texas Rangers for a late season 4-pack. Road doesn’t get easier for the Rays, but that is what good teams do…Win when they are suppose to lose.
To say this is an extreme uphill climb would be diminishing its full effect and intensity. We all know that this Rays team has pulled more than its share of magic out of their caps this season, especially during the last few home stands. With 15 of their final 26 contests at home, the Rays have a chance to firmly determine their march towards their goal of meaningful October games.
Rays Republic got to experience that “Magical Season” in 2008, and again revel in the madness and celebration with another AL East title in 2010. This final push for the Rays will decide more than just their fate in October, it could be the last time a few of the Rays players ever have a chance to play as a team on the Trop’s turf. 26 chances in the next 30 days to survive and play again in October. I am beginning to like the Rays odds.
The mission will be tough, but somewhere deep within me I know this is also a team that strives to be the underdog, enjoys being overlooked by their opponents. This is a team hungry to again win the battle before embarking on an October war. Who knows, if the Rays are successful in this campaign maybe Rays Manager Joe Maddon will wear a military helmet into a post game Press Conference. Maddon might even quote General George Patton or Sun Tzu. Either way, it is time for the Rays to suit up because their 30-day campaign begins today with full gear with October on the horizon.
I began my stroll through the doors of the far terminal of St. Petersburg /Clearwater Airport just at the same time that dinner was delivered to a few of the Tampa Bay Rays interns and staffers who had gotten their early to erect the skeleton of the maze that the Rays player would waltz through on their way to their buses. I was the first fans (same as 2008) to wander into the concourse a few minutes after the Rays clinched their second American League East title in three seasons.
Immediately there were a bucket load of high-5’s and even a few screams of “Go Rays!” from a few of the assembled Rays employees as I got into a prime spot with a direct shot at the door the Rays players and staff would bust through on their way back into Tampa Bay’s hearts. This moment was definitely the calm before the storm as the Rays plane would not land for another 4 ½ hours, giving me more than enough time to catch up with some people I had not seen in a while.
People like my old Pepsi boss, who along with her new Special Events coordinator (my old job) were starting to set up free Aquafina water and natural Sierra Mist soda stations all over the concourse to keep the Rays fans hydrated in the upcoming close quarters celebration commemorating the Rays first thrust in the 2010 post season. I had come early to get a bit of fodder for a future post, but within the next half hour small strands of Rays faithful were slowly assembling and in high spirits to see :their boys ” one more time.
Even had an insider (Rays ex-charter flight attendant) who kept me informed of the charter flight’s status and a few funny text messages she got from some of the people still celebrating in Kansas City. It wasn’t until 10:30-ish that the Rays plane finally touched the tarmac at St. Pete/Clearwater Airport, and by that time the crowd had multiplied 20-fold. But in that down time before the Rays plane landed, the Rays kept the crowd energized and excited with the antics of our favorite sea dog Raymond, game day emcee Rusty Kath and the Rays (dance) Team.
But what really got people fired up was the hundreds of balloons that were blown up hours earlier and then pushed into the crowd to form a balloon volleyball match that lasted for a half hour or more. It kept our minds off the wait, and on our toes as blue and yellow balloons constantly were pushed towards the white gating and needed to be pushed back into the ever increasing mass of Rays Republicans’ who turned out to welcome the team back home.
Trivia questions for bobbleheads and kid’s batting helmets, Raymond dance-off contests, and even some great mixes by D J Fresh, who is an ex-Rays bat boy turned DJ, provided easy ways for the crowd to forget the time on their feet and stuffed like sardines. But suddenly it was time. You saw the Rays stadium staff go out to the tarmac quickly followed by the Rays team photographers, and you knew the moment had arrived. You knew it was time to scream, yell, thrust signs skyward and cheer for your champion Rays.
Immediately the tarmac door opened and in came Rays Manager Joe Maddon in his customized Brayser suit quickly followed by players and staff in their own Braysers. Never had the Brayser been so fashionable than at that moment, The team had coaxed MLB during the last home stand to let the team hit the field wearing the plaid billon their game day caps, and now during the celebration, the Braysers had made St. Petersburg mad for plaid.
Instantly the assembled Rays crowd went into a frenzy of emotions and verbal cheers along with screaming and yelling for select players as they filtered in from the plane. Evan Longoria was decked out in his Brayser complete with a white belt and white patent leather loafers in a look that would have made Pat Boone proud. And you could tell by their faces that the sounds of this enclosed terminal area kind of put a few of them back on their heels, but they quickly adjusted and got into the flow of the moment.
It was officially celebration time in Tampa Bay, the mighty Rays had landed home safe and sound. Maddon made a short speech then turned the microphone over to Longoria and then David Price before the team quickly made their way to the buses stopping to shake hands with the fans, read a few of the signs and look totally overwhelmed ( in a good way) by all of this Rays attention.
The veterans of the 2008 airport celebration knew what to expect, but playoff rookies like Matt Joyce and Dan Johnson just looked like deer in the headlights, but were into the moment as they went through the maze on their way to the exits. It was another example of the great support and admiration this club has by some of it deepest and most passionate fans. Rays players did not take a lot of time to greet fans and friends they knew along the winding white gate path.
Glances and finger pointing were the signals of the day as the players quickly got to the busses possibly for an extended round of celebration on tap later in the evening. As quickly as the emotions and sound has risen, it was suddenly silent and the crowd moved for the many exits, hoping to get a glimpse or wave from the Rays players on the busses before they disembarked for Tropicana Field. The Rays were finally home.
They had finally completed one of their seasonal goal by winning on the road, and in achieving that goal, they had won an A L East crown. It was an evening of renewed friendships, honest emotion and a buzz that seemed to stay within your body for a few hours. As the large crowd began to filter out of the terminal, local media news crews were summarizing the action and events, trying to collect the balls of energy of these great celebratory moments for those Rays fans at home.
As quickly as it began, it was now over. Time to go back home and personally access the moment, collect our thoughts and begin to focus on the goal at hand. The Rays had secured another A L East title. Another banner would be raised to the rafters in April, but two more still had to be fought for in the coming weeks, with the journey beginning in 3 days as the Rays kick off the playoff punch with a 1:30 start on Wednesday afternoon against the Texas Rangers.
Even this morning, the buzz and effect of that crowd scene last night still hums in my head, and is alive on my camera. And all of it will collect again soon as the Rays Republic ( and me) assemble again on Weds. To begin our quest for another ring, another victory, and another great moment to celebrate in our Rays brief, but fantastic history.
See you at the ballpark.
But the stark reality is that baseball is not played with a remote possibility of your opposing teams shaking or quaking with the fact the Rays are coming to their town. And in New York right now, there is no team within the MLB more hungry and willing to chew up and spit out the Rays with angst than the New York Yankees.
The plain fact that the Rays are going into Yankee Stadium for a two game series against their bitter rival, the Yankees, might seem as motivation enough to get fans of both team’s blood boiling and ready for action. But the Yankees are reeling a bit and might be just on the verge of biting back at someone after having a recent one game setback at the hands of those ruthless Boston Red Sox.
And even if Yankee supreme starter C C Sabathia threw last night in bean town trying to secure a series victory, this Yankees team is ready, willing and able to thrust a “L” upon the Rays without a moment’s notice.
And even with the sudden injury and Bullpen implosion situations befalling the Pinstriped ones lately, this Yankee team just seems to be able to reload their arsenal every night. This is not to forecast any sense of doom or gloom, or the remote possibility of the Rays not taking both critical games. But the reality is that both of the Yankees probable pitchers, A J Burnett and Andy Pettitte have their own unique versions of humiliating the Rays hitters. Most Rays fans might remember in the finals games of 2009, it was this same duo who took the wins in the last two Rays home games and it left a bitter taste in all of our mouths.
Do not let the fact be quickly dismissed that a series in Yankee Stadium is not a venture into extremely hostile territory on the field as well as the stands. The Pinstripes currently hold a 71-29 overall win advantage against the Rays in Yankee Stadium. And the Yankees easily walked into Tropicana Field during early April and handed the Rays two quick losses to provide some extra Rays incentive for this series. It is going to be a fight from the First Pitch tonight until the very last one on Thursday night to gain either some extra breathing room, or provide some cramped space towards the top of the American League East division.
But one interesting side note of this series is that even if the Yankees were to take both games, they could not regain the top spot in the AL East before the Rays leave because they are currently 3 games behind Tampa Bay. And the image is still fresh that the Pinstripes went 11-7 against the Rays in 2009, and have always played the Rays tough, even in lop-sided affairs.
The Yankees have currently won 9 out of the last 12 overall games played between the two foes. In 2009 contests at Yankee Stadium, the Rays went 6-3 and handed the Yankees their 11th home series crown in the last 12 years. In that 2009 span of games played in the Bronx, the Yankees lost their first three against the Rays, then sparked 6 straight wins at home against the Rays to secure their 4th straight seasonal home series victory at Yankee Stadium.
And even with the aspect of last night’s game in Boston possibly played out under protest, this Yankees team is still itching to get some residual payback at someone else’s expense for them losing a series to Boston 2-1. And the Rays might be entering the grounds of Yankee Stadium at a time that some might venture is a pitching debacle waiting to happen after Yankee closer Mariano Rivera and his set-up men suddenly looked mortal a few nights ago, but the reality is that this Yankee team is just like the Rays in that their memory is short when it comes to losses and they quickly prepare for the next butt-whooping instead of dwelling.
And do not think the Yankees will be looking too far ahead to their inner-city tumble against the New York Mets during the upcoming weekend. The team knows that their focus has to be securely on gaining some ground the AL East race before they put their ducks in a row to fight for the NYC bragging rights. But there is a lot at stake right now for the Yankees with the Rays coming into town. But the Rays can also do a lot of their own residual collateral damage to the Yankees Playoff hopes during this short series by posting up a win or two along the way. Scott Audette/Reuters
And with the MLB season almost a ¼ of a way done, any movement up or downwards in the American League standings is critical to both squads ultimate goals.
And it might seem that I am trying to dispel any hopes or positive energy here with these facts and figures. In reality I want to post the severity and the possibilities that this series could change the outcome of the final standings. I have always thought of each win against an AL East foes to be worth two wins, and each loss two losses. That is because it will take two wins against anyone else within the 162 games schedule to hopefully erase a single loss in the AL east division. But winning a series or even two games against your divisional foes can elevate your chance to landing in front of them two-fold ( in my thinking).
You only have to look at 2008 to see the instant ramifications of this thought process. In that season, the Rays 7-11 against the Yankees during the seasonal series and those four additional losses made the Rays final American League East record closer to Boston ( 2 games) than if they would have won two more games and boosted a four-game lead over the Red Sox.
In comparison, if the Rays had not gone 10-8 against Boston and split their seasonal series, the Rays would have then tied with the Red Sox for the AL East title. So to me, a win against a divisional rival takes on a double sense of victory and could play into the ultimate decision making process of this year’s AL East race, or a possible Playoff berth.
I guess the main message in all this rambling of words and phrases is that you can not take anything for granted this season. Not a single win or loss might tumble either of these teams to the possibility of not fulfilling their dreams, but a multiple effect of constant wins or losses could be beneficial or destructive to either teams march towards October.
I am anxious to get these game over with and see the Rays speed off to Houston where the complications are less extreme, and the losses less likely. But you can bet I will not be the only one sitting on the edge of my seat contemplating or even on the verge of hyperventilation during every play and pitch. This might seem only like a May match-up between divisional rivals, but these two game could become a pivotal point to either team’s destiny come October. And there is no harm in stockpiling Rays wins…ever.