Rays fans might be tempted to look past this series against the Blue Jays, considering what looms immediately afterward ( three games against the division leading Yankees, at the Trop). That would not be a good idea, for a variety of reasons.
For starters, the Blue Jays are easily the best 4th place team in baseball. They have a better record, with a tougher schedule than the third place team in the AL Central division (Detroit) and the second place team in the AL West (Oakland). Loaded with power hitters, there will be no gimme games in this series. Secondly, the Rays lead in the Wildcard standings is healthy but it's not insurmountable. Besides, they're still way too close to catching the Yankees to start thinking about just coasting into the playoffs as the Wildcard, especially if the Rangers can help by taking a bite out of them this weekend. Third, and possibly most important, the Rays enter this series having lost two series in a row for the first time since June. Now is not the time to be setting bad trends. With a sweep, the Rays will finish the road trip 5-4 but it's not wise to expect that. Best to hope for re-establishing the healthy habit of taking two of three.
The Blue Jays (72-68, 4th place) come into this series after splitting four games with the Texas Rangers. They are 4-6 in their last ten games, losing their last two. Rightfielder Jose Bautista leads the majors in home runs with 44. He's one of four Blue Jays, along with Vernon Wells, Aaron Hill and Adam Lind, with at least 20.
The Rays (84-55, 2nd) have won five of their last ten, but only one of their last five. This is the final three game series of a three city, nine game road trip. After this, only eight of the Rays remaining 20 games are away from Tropicana Field, a four game visit to New York starting September 20th and the final four games of the regular season at Kansas City starting September 30th.
James Shields (13-12, 4.92) gets the start in the series opener tonight and will be opposed by Brett Cecil (12-7, 3.76)