Red Sox, Rays Becoming The Rivalry Of The AL East
The Red Sox and Rays are preparing for a humongous late July 4-game series starting in Fenway Park tonight and the importance of this series shows how much the landscape of the AL East has changed over only the last 9 months. Last year neither team even made the playoffs (The Yankees and Orioles did) but it would be, at least to me, a shock if neither of these teams made the post-season by the end of the year. The two teams play this important set that may go a long way in determining who plays in the wild card play-in game and who gets a rest in home field advantage in at least the first round.
The Red Sox and Rays have had a rivalry on some level since the Rays came into the league. There have been numerous fights between the two clubs between 1998 and as recent as this season when the Sox and Rays exchanged hit-batsmen and cleared the benches in a series in Tampa earlier this year. The rivalry heated up in 2008 when the Rays jumped onto the scene by winning the AL East and beating the Red Sox in 7 games in the ALCS to clinch their first ever American League pennant. Terry Francona said that the 2008 Sox may have been the best team that he managed in Boston but the Sox only managed to go 8-10 against Tampa during the regular season and then lost a chance at back-to-back AL pennants in the 7-game loss.
You could argue however that the reason the Rays, and not the Yankees, is the big rivalry of the AL East now is because how the division is set up for the future. Both the Sox and the Rays have stacked farm systems, particularly with young pitchers. While the Orioles have a lot of firepower in their lineup they have struggled to put together a young pitching staff to take them deep into the playoffs. The Yankees obviously have long-term issues and who knows what’s going on in Toronto. Right now the Red Sox and the Rays are easily in the best positions to survive the AL East long term.
Both squads have players that the other team’s fan base loves to hate. Both David Price and Jon Lester rub opposing fans the wrong way with their constant moping and complaining on the mound. John Lackey and Matt Joyce went at it earlier this year after Joyce pimped a long foul ball and Lackey took exception. I am personally not a big fan of Joe Maddon who I feel is insufferable at times with his holier than thou attitude (you never hit anyway on purpose, ever? Really Joe?). You can argue that above it all both of these teams play the game right. They are well-coached, disciplined teams that play a brand of baseball that is fun to watch. That is what has made the rivalry so much fun.
It’s clear that the Red Sox and the Rays have been the two best teams in the AL East so far this season. Every single one of these games is a must-win. These two teams don’t like each other but they respect each other. The Red Sox/Rays rivalry is a breath of fresh air after near a decade of Red Sox/Yankees, Red Sox/Yankees when a lot of times the baseball wasn’t even all that good. Enjoy the games, hang on every pitch because they’ll go a long way in deciding the AL East division champs come the end of the season.