After three heart-pounding games against the New York Yankees that are already being referred to as classics by those who witnessed as well as those who played in them, a letdown of sorts on behalf of the Rays against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim wouldn't be a huge surprise.
Think about it: each game was decided by one run, two of them went into extra innings and the only one that didn't have lead changes was the opener, just because only one run was scored. What was at stake? Just first place in baseball's best division and the best record in the majors, that's all. And Monday, they get together and do it all again, with four games this time, in New York. It would be a perfectly natural reaction to let their foot off the accelerator pedal a little bit, if for no other reason than to try to catch their breath.
Managing that impulse could be a very important factor going forward as the race enters it's final few days. The Rays lead is only a half game. The Rays host the Angels for three games while the Yankees travel to Baltimore for three against the Orioles. If one team does a better job of maintaining their focus and intensity than the other during their respective series, that team could put themselves in a significantly better position to weather whatever happens during the head-to-head series next week in the Bronx.
The Angels (71-75, 3rd place, AL West) are 6-4 in their last ten games and lost two of three in their last series against the Indians in Cleveland. The last time they hooked up with the Rays, they lost two of three in Anaheim near the end of August. The Angels are expected to start Dan Haren (3-4, 3.04) to the mound to start the series. Haren will be making his 11th start for the Angels since being acquired from the Arizona Diamondbacks on July 25th. He got the win the last time the Rays and Angels met, a 12-3 laugher in Anaheim on August 25th.
The Rays (88-57, 1st place, AL East) are 5-5 in their last ten but are actually on an upswing, having won four of their last six, winning their last two series in a row in the process. The Rays are expected to open with Wade Davis (12-9, 4.24). Davis has been spotty of late, alternating pretty good starts (seven innings, one run, six strikeouts in his last appearance, a win against Toronto) with not-so-great efforts (4 runs in five innings in a no-decision at Baltimore the week before) but hasn't been tagged with a loss since May 27th.