Just under a month ago, the Blue Jays came into Fenway on an absolute tear. After falling well back in the American League East, the Jays had fought their way up over .500 and within seven games of the division-leading Sox.
Four days later, and the Jays' momentum had been blunted. The Sox had taken 3-of-4, leaving the Jays back under .500 and 8.5 games back. Since then the Jays have gone 4-11, falling well back into the depths of the East.
Now the Red Sox are hoping to do the same to a Rays team that, all-of-a-sudden, just can't seem to lose. Trailing Boston by just 1.5 games, the Rays have done what they've needed to make this as big of a series as the Red Sox have had all year.
Unfortunately, the biggest game of the year does not necessarily come with the Sox at their best. The four-game set will start with no less than Brandon Workman and Jon Lester on the mound for the Red Sox. Workman will be making just his second major league start, and Lester hasn't been himself for months. Arguably more than a year if you don't consider the first seven weeks of the season a lengthy enough turnaround to reset the clock after 2012.
Still, let's not lose sight of things here. As nervous as Red Sox fans might be coming into the season, the burden of proof rests on the Rays. So far this season, Tampa Bay has not been able to figure out the Sox all season long. With a 9-3 record and +13 run differential against the Rays, the Sox have dominated the matchup. And if you're thinking that the Rays are suddenly a different team, well...
It's hardly a secret that the Rays haven't exactly been facing the best of the best this past month, But the extent of it...
The Rays are 15-2 in July. The Rays also haven't played a team over .500 since June.— Ryan Hudson (@ry_hudson) July 22, 2013
Tonight, for the first time this month, the Rays will play a team not currently in 4th or 5th place.— Patrick Sullivan (@PatrickSull) July 22, 2013
Now that is a soft schedule. After taking 2-of-3 from the Tigers, the Rays have lost just two games, picking up 15 wins...against the Astros, White Sox, Twins, and Blue Jays. Forget about .500, the competition the Rays have faced has averaged a winning percentage of .396. That figure would be good for last in the AL East and Central, and NL West. Milwaukee comes in just .001 behind in the NL Central.
All of this will mean nothing if Lester and Workman bomb and Lackey and Doubront can't take care of business in games three and four. For the Sox, 1-3 or, God forbid, a four-game sweep would certainly be a failure, leaving them in second place for the first time in a long while.
But for anyone thinking a wavering Red Sox team has no chance against the red-hot Rays, there's more to this than just 15-2 and 10-6 (Boston's record in July). The Rays might feel like they're unbeatable right now, but all it takes is one solid punch to put a stop to that. Just ask the Jays.
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