For the last several years, the AL East has become a 3-horse race. The Red Sox and Yankees were joined by the Rays as perennial contenders, but since the All-Star break, it seems like the Rays are going in a different direction. While the Red Sox and Yankees have gone a combined 14-6 over the last 10 games, the Rays are a poor 4-6 and are now 5.5 games behind the Yankees and 7.5 games back of the division leading Red Sox. With a week left before the trade deadline, have the Rays played themselves out of the division race and into sellers before July 31st? Let’s explore.
Starting back this off-season, the Rays lost a lot of players from their 2010 squad. They appeared to have an inferior lineup compared to the Red Sox and Yankees and in an effort to make a big splash, signed Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez within a short period of time. The Rays were trying to add a few veteran pieces to keep them competitive in the league (as well as make a statement within the division), but shortly into the season, the Ramirez signing blew up in their face. He tested positive for steroid use and promptly retired from baseball as a 2-time offender and a disgrace to the game. Despite that loss the Rays fought through and sit at 7 games above .500 as of Friday. They have a respectable record, but it feels like they are way back in the division.
The question for Rays ownership is about the trade deadline. When do they make a decision on whether to be buyers or sellers? They are certainly headed in the wrong direction, but a surge could bring them back in the race. The next 3 games will be the ultimate decision maker, because the Rays are playing the 18-games-under-.500 and AL Central basement dwellers, the Kansas City Royals. If the Rays lose the series, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the team switch into selling mode with an eye towards 2012 and beyond. Their deficit will not be impossible to overcome, but with 2 powerhouse teams playing solid baseball in front of them, they will have an extra tough uphill battle.
It has been fun to have a 3-team race every year in the AL East, but I won’t be upset if the Rays become sellers over the next week and the division becomes a heavy-weight fight to the finish with the Red Sox and Yankees fighting for the division and wild card slots.