The (Devil) Rays roll into town tonight with their perfect road record, their five guys slugging over .500 on the year, their pretty hair, their snobby attitude, and are fresh off annihilating the Boston Red Sox for four straight games. Just yesterday they roughed up John Lackey, a pitcher widely regarded as being better than Freddy Garcia. While a lot might remember Mark Buehrle's perfect game against the Rays last season, this roster also bears a great resemblance to the club that beat the tar out of us in the '08 playoffs.
There are few reasons why the Tampa Rays coming to town shouldn't scare the blubbering bejeesus out of you.
Allow me to try to mine the hell out of those few reasons.
Anyone who's read my season preview or the last post knows that I can pontificate for days, so let's just jump into the list of '3 Reasons Why Tampa Coming to Town is Not Quite the Apocalypse'.
1. Pitching Matchups
Roberto Garza has been a terrifying force of nature thus far for the Rays, going 3-0 with a 0.75 ERA and 19 strikeouts in 24 innings.
Jeff Niemann has been effective as well, giving quality starts in his past two outings versus Baltimore and Boston, while posting an ERA under 3.00.
Neither of these guys are pitching here this week.
Conversely, the White Sox will be throwing their three best starters at the Rays. Gavin Floyd (not one of the three), having imploded just this past Sunday, will be allowed to sit back and watch tape, rest his arm, go to the rehab clinic Tiger Woods went to, or whatever it is that he needs to do. The Sox will be utilizing the day off to hide Freddy Garcia like a stripper conceals a surgical scar, putting Jake Peavy in his place. In addition to Peavy, who was certifiably decent in his last outing, the Sox will throw out thier top dog so far in Danks, and Buehrle. One might assume that with the whole perfect game and all that Buehrle has a bit of a mental edge on the Rays, but it's just as likely that they'll be gunning for him as hard as possible. Hopefully Tampa continues its utterly moronic approach of swinging early in the count on Buehrle for the forseeable future.
Tampa is throwing out David Price tonight, and he's legitimately scary. He has the potential to overpower hitters with his fastball, and counters it with hard breaking stuff. The Sox have been in the habit of making every left-hander look like Sandy Koufax recently. At least he doesn't have that good of a changeup....what am I saying? He'll probably eat us alive with that crummy changeup. But the South-Siders will be countering Price with Danks, who's been outstanding in his two starts, one of which was against Minnesota, an actual major league team. Other than Price, Tampa throws out rookie Wade Miller...wait....that can't be right...Wade Davis, and James Shields. Both have ERA over 4.00 thus far, and James Shields is seeming more and more every day like Tampa's version of Jon Garland (5 HR allowed in 18 innings).
2. Tampa has not been that good.
Yes, they've won 7 in a row and lead the AL in runs scored and stolen bases, but are in the middle of the pack in most hitting and pitching statistics. They're not winning games with 20 hits, or 8 million home runs, or by decapitating opposing pitchers with katanas. Ranking no higher than 6th in the AL in average, on-base pct., or slugging pct. suggests that Tampa is winning because they're converting their opportunities, sustaining rallies, and being timely in everything they do. They're the Anti-Sox!
This doesn't mean they'll be easy to defeat, but suggests that they're not the wrath of God in the form of a baseball team. The Yankees are, though.
3. This means a lot more to us than it is to them
This series represents the last three games of a ten game road trip for the Rays, a road trip that has been fantastically successful so far given that they have won every game. Dropping a series to the Sox would do little to diminish their accomplishment. Additionally, the Rays are coming off a visceral triumph over their hated division rival in the Red Sox. After playing their best ball against a team they actually care about, the Rays are a real threat to suffer a letdown playing a team that as of right now constitutes the dregs of the AL Central. In other words, why the hell would they care about little old us?
Conversely, the White Sox are on the edge. They've lost four in a row, are coming home after a long disastrous road trip, and are close as one can get to having their season on the line after 13 games. A home series against a top team is the Sox' chance to prove themselves as well...not a contender, not a force to be reckoned with but....maybe somewhat viable. Ozzie's approach to this season, as well as several struggling veterans, are all under intense scrutiny and in desperate need of a dose of validation.
If the Sox can't get up for this game then we really, really, really stink.
I think if the Sox are 4-12 going into this weekend, I am perfectly justified in writing a panic article.
Something with a headline and picture like this:
Then I'd spend the rest of the season ranting about trading all the veterans and tracking the process of Gordon Beckham.
Let's not do that, eh guys?