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Baffled teams start half with much to resolve
The schedule is no friend to the Rays' plight, but the Yanks may find a hand up.
By MARC TOPKIN
Published July 12, 2007
The Rays expect to face a hungry Yankees squad led by Alex Rodriguez.
ST. PETERSBURG - They slogged through a frustrating first half, besieged by pitching problems, wondering how much worse it could get as questions mount about their manager and the future, left to hope that opening the second half tonight at Tropicana Field against a struggling opponent is the start of something.
But this isn't just about the Devil Rays.
The Yankees are nine games ahead of the Rays in the standings, but they resume play in relatively the same place, disappointed where they are but hopeful a good start to the second half is the first step toward better days.
"They're definitely going to want to put it on us, playing in the division to gain games and get off to a good start," Rays outfielder Jonny Gomes said. "But we're kind of on the same program, too. They're trying to turn it around just as much as we are."
Any similarities are actually a matter of perspective. The Rays, saddled with the majors' worst record at 34-53, a bullpen in need of an overhaul and several key players on the disabled list, would be gleeful to be where the Yankees are at 42-43.
But it's not a happy place for the Yankees, 10 games behind division-leading Boston and 8 1/2 games out of the AL wild card, with five teams to overcome.
But fortunately for the Yankees, they have the Devil Rays to look forward to. And the Royals, White Sox and Orioles.
The Yankees open the second half with 28 games against teams under .500, including eight of their first 12 against the Rays, and they realize if they have a future, it has to start now.
"The main thing is that everybody understands where we are right now and I think it's time to go," Jorge Posada told the New York Post. "We have to start winning series from now on and it seems like we have a pretty good schedule right now."
"Basically we have to be in urgency mode right from the start of the second half," Alex Rodriguez added. "Every game counts, every pitch counts, so we're in for a very intense second half."
The Rays, despite having won three of four from the Yankees this season, have an idea what they're in for.
"It's going to be a tough battle," manager Joe Maddon said. "They're a bunch of pros over there. Their problem has been their pitching, too. Their guys on the field, that's a solid bunch right there. Joe Torre's not going to let it get out of control. They're going to be fine.
"They're probably in a difficult position to make a legitimate run at things, however, they're going to play well in the second half. I really believe that. They're going to be recharged and refreshed by the break also.
"They're the Yankees. I'm anticipating them to be very good."
The Rays are hoping, at the least, to be better.
The bullpen, with a major-league-worst 6.12 ERA and .301 opponents average, has been the primary area of criticism, but there are other significant concerns: an offense that has dropped off into the league's bottom half in average and runs, a rotation with a major-league-low 21 wins (seven by James Shields) and second-worst ERA at 5.65, and the majors' sloppiest defense (.977 fielding percentage, 73 errors in 87 games). Plus, they've lost 20 of their past 25, including an 11-game losing streak.
And there's the little matter of their schedule, which, besides eight of their first 11 and 14 overall against the Yankees, includes 15 games against the Red Sox, plus two series with the contending Angels and one each with the Tigers, Indians, A's and Mariners.
Maddon, however, is typically optimistic they will be better.
"In spite of the horrible streak we went through, we played a lot of good close games," he said. "I know they're 'close,' and we didn't win them, and this is not horseshoes. But we compete with these teams and you can see where we break down on occasion in certain areas. We know where those are, and we have to get better. And in the second half we're going to make a real concerted effort to be able to do that."
The Rays have the worst record in the majors and a brutal remaining schedule. Here's what they have to do to reach certain "accomplishments":