What do Kansas City Royals ace James Shields, Cleveland Indians left-hander Scott Kazmir and Texas Rangers righty Matt Garza have in common?
They all were part of the Tampa Bay Rays' World Series starting rotation in 2008, and they're all starting games Monday that will affect the Rays fate in the AL wild-card race. With an 81-67 record, the Rays come into play tied with Rangers for the wild-card lead.
Actually, one of the ex-Rays, so to speak, could help them make the playoffs. Kazmir's Indians, who visit Kauffman Stadium where Shields' Royals await, are one game in the loss column behind Tampa and Texas. K.C. is four games in the loss column behind the leaders, so the Rays probably can sweat the Royals winning on Monday, if only because it gets the Indians off their back a little. So it's likely they'll be pulling for "Big Game James"
Even juicier, as far as subplots go, is Garza's Rangers starting a four-game series at Tropicana Field tonight. Since coming over from the Cubs in a trade 10 starts ago, Garza has a 4.46 ERA with Texas. The way the Rangers have been scoring runs, they might need Garza to pitch a shutout. The Rays have lost Alex Cobb's past four starts, but he might be their best pitcher this season.
Overall, the Rays and Rangers have been sinking together. Tampa Bay is 17-23 since August 1 and Texas has dropped 12 of 15, including six in a row at home.
It should be noted that Edwin Jackson, who now pitches for the Cubs and also starts Mondat, was a part of the Rays rotation in 2008 — the same as Shields, Kazmir and Garza. Unfortunately, the Cubs are not participating in the pennant race at this time.
It also should be noted that the Yankees and Orioles are a touch closer to the wild card leader than the Royals, but neither of them are pitching former Rays when their respective series start Tuesday.