Getting the Jump: Tampa Bay Rays Look To Put Boston Red Sox in Early Hole

JC De La TorreAnalyst IIIApril 15, 2010

BOSTON - APRIL 9: Jason Varitek #33 of Boston Red Sox watches the flight of a ball hit by Carl Crawford #13 of the Tampa Bay Rays at Fenway Park April 9, 2009, in Boston, Massachusetts. The Rays won the game 4-3. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
Jim Rogash/Getty Images

Here we go again—Rays and Red Sox, a budding rivalry renewed. The Tampa Bay Rays, fresh off their sweep of division rival Baltimore, head into Beantown to take on the struggling Boston Red Sox, losers of five of their last nine games.

For the Rays, who lead Boston by two games and are a half game behind the perennially fluky Toronto Blue Jays, it's a golden opportunity to put the team that likely will be their greatest competition for a wild-card berth further behind them.

A four-game set at legendary Fenway Park beckons promise. Take three out of four and you leave Boston with a four-game head start. Sweep the Sox...and don't look now, but an early six-game lead sure feels nice, even if it's only in April.

Truth be told, every game between Tampa Bay and Boston is going to have a huge say in who's playing October baseball later this year.

Tampa Bay has played well against the Red Sox since their resurgence, owning an impressive 20-14 record. However, Fenway Park continues to be a nut Tampa Bay has yet to crack, going 3-6 in Boston last year.

"I think the most important thing is that we've never really played well there," SS Jason Bartlett told the St. Petersburg Times . "No matter what time of year it is, if we prove to ourselves we can win ball games there—I think Joe said it a couple years ago—if we want to go to where we want to be, we're going to have to go through there."

What's encouraging for Tampa Bay is they are finally getting contributions from B.J. Upton, one of the most important cogs to the Tampa Bay offensive engine. Upton's batting .273 with two homers and six RBI thus far.

Carlos Pena is also striking the ball well, leading the team with three dingers and 10 RBI.

Tampa Bay's gotten solid starting pitching with six quality starts in their first nine outings and a 3.10 ERA, third best in the majors.

Meanwhile, Boston's starters are off to a horrid start, with a 4.54 ERA.

For Boston, there's still a lot of time to get things righted, even if they lose this weekend's series against Tampa Bay.

Boston was 3-6 this time last year and they finished up pretty well. A quick winning streak will put them right back near the top of the mountain.

Still, if Tampa Bay can do well against Boston this weekend, it can send an early warning shot over the bow of Red Sox nation that this isn't just a two-team race.