If the Tampa Bay Rays are going to have any shot at sniffing the postseason in 2011, this is their Alamo: A three game set with the visiting Boston Red Sox, the current Wild Card leader, that is a virtual must-sweep for a Rays team clinging to a tiny glimmer of playoff hope.
Boston leads the Rays, and the Angels, in the Wild Card race by 6.5 games but has played poorly in the last week. They are 3-7 in their last ten, and limp into Tropicana Field after having lost 2 out of 3 to the Toronto Blue Jays. Meanwhile, the Rays are riding a hot streak coming off a series victory over AL West leading Texas, and narrowing the gap between themselves and Boston by 3.5 games since September 2nd.
Boston is also banged up. 3B Kevin Youkilis (hip) and P Josh Beckett (foot) are both expected to miss the series, with Youkilis heading back to Massachusetts to have an MRI and be evaluated by team doctors. Tampa Bay, on the other hand, may finally be healthy as Evan Longoria has completely rebounded from his early season struggles and the addition of Desmond Jennings has been a much needed shot in the arm for the club.
While the playoffs are still a distant long shot, a sweep of the Red Sox could make the race very interesting.
Here are the matchups for the three-game set
Friday, 7:10pm: Wade Davis (9-8, 4.50 ERA) vs. John Lackey (12-11, 6.11 ERA)
Saturday, 7:10pm: Jeremy Hellickson (12-10, 2.90 ERA) vs. Kyle Weiland (0-1, 6.75 ERA)
Sunday, 1:40pm: James Shields (14-10, 2.77 ERA) vs. John Lester (15-6, 2.93 ERA)