MLB Playoffs: Could the Tampa Bay Rays Play Spoiler Down the Stretch?

William PenfieldCorrespondent IIAugust 17, 2011

ST. PETERSBURG, FL - AUGUST 02:  Outfielder Desmond Jennings #8 of the Tampa Bay Rays fouls off a pitch against the Toronto Blue Jays during the game at Tropicana Field on August 2, 2011 in St. Petersburg, Florida.  (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)
J. Meric/Getty Images

For the past couple seasons, the Tampa Bay Rays have been the little engine that could of Major League Baseball.

No matter what happened they always seemed to be in the mix of things come September.

Unfortunately for the Rays, it seems as though this will be the season that they fall back from the pack down the stretch.

The Rays currently sit nine-and-a-half games back in the AL East, and the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees are just too good for Tampa to be a factor.

The departure of all-stars Carl Crawford, Carlos Pena, Matt Garza and Rafael Soriano has been too much to overcome for the Rays this season.

Although not a factor in the playoff discussion this season, the Rays could certainly spoil some October plans for a few teams.

One race the Rays could partially affect is the AL West between the Los Angeles Angels and the Texas Rangers.

With six games remaining on the schedule against the Rangers, the Rays could swing the AL West race in favor of the Angels by winning four or five of those games.

The Angels currently sit four games back of the Rangers, so the six games against the Rays could influence the divisional race greatly.

Although the Rays will not play a factor this year in keeping either the Red Sox or Yankees out of the playoffs, they could very well be the deciding factor in which of those teams win the AL East

After the double header yesterday, the Rays have nine more games against the Red Sox, six of the nine in Tampa Bay. They have seven remaining against the Yankees, four of which will be played in Tampa Bay. 

The Rays are an even 4-4 against the Red Sox this season and 5-6 against the Yankees. 

Both teams play the majority of their remaining games against the Rays at Tropicana Field, so the better road team could end up winning the AL East. The Red Sox are 3-2 against the Rays at Tropicana and the Yankees are 3-3 at the Trop.

The Red Sox hold a slightly better overall road record, 36-24, to the Yankees, 32-22, this season. The Red Sox's superior road play could very well be the difference down the stretch between the two teams.

The Rays are certainly no stranger to the spoiler role as they have kept either the Red Sox or the Yankees out of the playoffs in two previous years, both in which the Rays won the division title.

In 2008, the Rays won the AL East with a record of 97-65. The Red Sox won the Wild Card making the Yankees the odd man out. The Rays won the division again in 2010 with a record of 96-66. The Yankees won the Wild Card making the Red Sox the odd man out that season.

Up until a couple years ago, the Rays were the laughing stock of the AL East. Baseball laughs no more. Even though they wont make the playoffs this year, there is a lot to be excited about in the future.

Keep an eye out for Desmond Jennings and Jeremy Hellickson to be the next stars to rise up through the Rays system.