Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Worried About the Rays? Hell Yes.

I do love those Red Sox South games. Apparently Jason Bay does, too.

Here's a classic case of "Do as I say, not as I do." Unfortunately, it seems like the Shelton Little League team didn't apply that helpful dictum to their celebrity phone call...

Wicked Good Sports' Rich Levine posted an article yesterday wondering whether or not Red Sox Nation is preparing itself to worrying about losing the AL East to the Rays. Beyond the tough phrasing (who gets ready to worry about something? My mother is a chronic worrier and even she doesn't get ready to worry about something: if she finds something that concerns her, she worries about it. End of story.), there's the fundamental question: when do we start worrying about the Rays?

Let me answer Rich's question with a question of mine own: when were we not worrying about the Rays? Robin may have laughed at me at the time, but I called Rays in third before the season started, with the caveat that they could take second with a strong bullpen showing and some weak competition. Well, guess what happened:
  1. Three key members of the bullpen (Wheeler, Howell, and Balfour) have been pitching out of their minds this year. Balfour in particular has been absolutely ridiculous: 6 runs in 39 innings with 57 strikeouts, for a gaudy ERA+ of 309. As a team, their bullpen has held opposing batters to an OPS+ of 87, which in relative terms is like having a team full of Julio Lugos.
  2. The Yankees are flops so desperate they're bringing back Carl Pavano. The Sox are - as ProjoJo.com charitably puts it - so full of question marks that it's tough to tell how they'll hold up in the post-season, carrying around a .453 road winning percentage like a lodestone around the neck.
Even if you wrote off the predicted numbers, signs of impending apocalypse should have entered the brain after the Rays swept the Sox the first time in St. Petersburg, and full-on concern should have appeared after the second sweep a few months later. The Sox haven't been particularly good road team in 2008 (understatement of the year), but getting blown out by what's clearly a good team in two straight sets should be a sign that the Rays are a threat. So yeah, I'm worried about the Rays. I've been worried about the Rays all year. I'm pretty much assuming they'll win the East, because they took two key injuries without losing stride and I look forward to another run with the Wild Card, even though surrendering the AL East may well mean a first round blowout on the road. Get used to the idea, Rich: in 2008, the Rays are a very real threat.