I am not worried that last night’s uninspiring showing is evidence that the Rays cannot keep it together for a 7-game postseason series. Last night was a classic trap game. The Red Sox made a last minute change to their rotation all but conceding that they are not going to catch us. Then we jumped out to an early lead and had a former ALCS MVP on the bump. Time to relax.
But I am worried that last night’s lack of focus means the players don’t really think they can catch the Yankees. I mean, how else does a team that watched Swisher’s walk-off dinger in the clubhouse go out that flat? (During the pre-game radio show, Marc Topkin told Dave Wills that the players were all watching the Yankee game and let out a string of profanity when Swisher hit that bomb.)
I know it seems like the Wild Card isn’t a bad consolation prize. Right now it looks like our reward for running down New York and winning the East would be a 5-game series against Texas because the West-leading Rangers, at 76-63 are 6.5 games back of the Central leading Twins.
Not only are the Rays historically awful in Texas’ ballpark (just 2-7 there since the start of 2009 and have been outscored by the Rangers 69-36 in those 9 games) but Texas is a scary opponent in a short series with Cliff Lee and their ability to explode offensively.
So losing the Wild Card comes with an apparent bonus: an easier first round opponent…right?
After all, the Rays outscored the Twins 38-32 while winning 5 of the teams’ 8 games. Mixed into that 5-3 record is the Rays’ convincing series win (3-out of-4) during their July 1-4 visit to Minnesota’s brand new Target Field. So why do the Rays need to run down New York again?
Because Target Field is outside. And Minneapolis, in October, is cold.
Since the beginning of the Wild Card era, AL teams from cold weather climates have won 9 of the 13 Division Series they have played against AL teams from warm weather climates. The weather, clearly effects the style of play in October (see Rays at Phillies, 2008 World Series) and the Rays are in the warmest climate in the American League and may potentially have to travel to the coldest climate…you know…EVER.
Also, don’t forget, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers went 16 years without a win when the game-time temperature was below 30 degrees.