Tampa Bay Rays: Cautious Optimism as Rays Sweep Boston Red Sox

Eli Marger@Eli_MargerCorrespondent ISeptember 12, 2011

ST. PETERSBURG, FL - SEPTEMBER 11:  Designated hitter Johnny Damon #22 of the Tampa Bay Rays congratulates B.J. Upton #2 after he scored against the Boston Red Sox during the game at Tropicana Field on September 11, 2011 in St. Petersburg, Florida.  (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)
J. Meric/Getty Images

I wrote an obituary for the Tampa Bay Rays in late July. The Rays had just lost a series in Kansas City and, on July 24, were six-and-a-half games back in the American League wild-card race.

Well, I wish I had never written that article.

Part of me wants to get a friend to smash me over the head with a shovel. Maybe that'll happen after baseball season.

You see, something is going on in Tampa Bay. The season is not over. In fact, the season just got a triple shot of excitement.

The Rays are still in third place with 17 games to go. But after a weekend sweep of the Boston Red Sox, the Rays are only three-and-a-half games back in the wild-card race. The next three weeks are going to be one heck of a ride.

To say that the Rays swept the Red Sox might be an understatement. With the exception of Saturday night's 11-inning thriller, the Bostonians pretty much laid down in the middle of the train tracks for the Rays. The supposedly light-hitting Rays went to town on a depleted Boston pitching staff.

And Sunday, the game in which Boston's best healthy pitcher, Jon Lester, took the mound, Tampa Bay put on their best show of the weekend. Lester lasted only four innings, allowing  four runs on eight hits. The Rays worked him for 111 pitches in those four innings.

ST PETERSBURG, FL - SEPTEMBER 11:  :  Pitcher James Shields #33 of the Tampa Bay Rays pitches against the Boston Red Sox during the game at Tropicana Field on September 11, 2011 in St. Petersburg, Florida.  (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)
J. Meric/Getty Images

B.J. Upton's grand slam off Matt Albers, which made the Upton brothers the first pair to go 20-20 in a season, was simply the icing on the cake. After that, Rays fans had a few innings to collect themselves and think about the task ahead.

Now the real fun begins.

From now on, every game is the biggest game of the year. The Rays have a relatively pedestrian three-game series against the Orioles in Baltimore before scooting up to Boston to face the Red Sox four final times.

After that, it's four games in the Bronx, three games at home against the Toronto Blue Jays and a season-ending three-game set at the Trop with the Yankees.

For a team that is only three-and-a-half games back with so many games against divisional rivals, there has to be some optimism.

Of course, it will be no easy task beating Boston at Fenway or beating New York period. But for a team that was nine-and-a-half games out at the beginning of the month, anything seems possible. The starting pitchers are white-hot. The bats are heating up.

Oh yeah, and then there's Matt Moore.

Haven't heard of him?

The starter of the All-Star Futures Game, Moore has gone 11-3 with a 1.92 ERA this year between AA and AAA, with 210 strikeouts in just 155 innings. If you're still not convinced, he has a 4.57 K/BB ratio and a 0.95 WHIP.

Moore will probably perform the same duty as David Price in 2008. He will be a great left-handed weapon out of the bullpen for the Rays.

There is a lot to be excited about in Tampa Bay. In the next three weeks, the Rays could fall flat on their face just as easily as they could jump into the playoffs.

Regardless, with the way the Rays starters are pitching and hitters are producing, it seems extremely realistic to think that the Rays could still play in October.

When I wrote the obituary for the team back in late July, I had no idea they could be within striking distance of the Wild Card at this point. And quite honestly, I wasn't the only one who wrote them off.

But here they are, on their way to Baltimore to begin the first of several do-or-die games.

Baseball fans thought there would be no exciting September pennant races.

Well, my friends, we've got one.