Normally a midweek series between the two best teams in the AL—the first ever in St. Petersburg this late in the season—would be the biggest event in the Tampa Bay area.
Instead, the Rays’ three-game possible postseason preview against the Los Angeles Angels, scheduled to begin Monday at Tropicana Field, may have to compete with a hurricane.
Monday’s game is unlikely to be affected by the Tropical Storm Fay, but contests on Tuesday and Wednesday between the AL East and West leaders remain uncertain due to the storm, currently projected to reach Florida’s Gulf Coast on Tuesday.
“We’re in communication with the Angels,” Rays president Matt Silverman said. “We hope to get at least two games in this week.”
Tropicana Field has presented a different kind of problem all season for opponents, as the Rays (75-48) have won six of their last seven there to move to 45-17 at home—tied for the best home record in baseball.
The Angels (76-46) have firsthand experience, getting swept in St. Petersburg May 9-11. They were shut out 2-0 in each of the first two games before losing 8-5 in the finale.
“What they have done is remarkable,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia told his team’s official Web site. “They’ve been playing great baseball at home.”
The Rays have been playing well everywhere, as they return to Florida after going 7-3 on a 10-game road trip, capped with Sunday’s 7-4 win over Texas. Thanks to Boston’s 15-4 loss to Toronto earlier in the day, they opened a 4 1/2-game lead on the Red Sox atop the AL East.
Carlos Pena hit a three-run home run Sunday—his fourth in the last five games—while B.J. Upton went 3-for-5 with a homer and three RBIs. It was Upton’s first game back in the lineup after being benched for Saturday’s contest when he didn’t run hard to first on a double-play grounder Friday.
“I thought he was pretty darned good,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said of Upton. “… I saw him raise the level of his play.”
Los Angeles doesn’t have as much momentum after losing its first series to an AL opponent since the May visit to Tampa Bay.
The Angels’ 4-3 loss to Cleveland Sunday was their third in the last four games, although their lead over the Rangers in the West remained 15 1/2 games. They still have the best record in baseball, and their magic number to clinch the division is already down to 24.
“You set the standard so high and you lose one series and ask ‘what’s wrong,’” outfielder Torii Hunter said. “That’s what we’re saying. We’ve been riding the wave so long. We have to get another wave.”
On Monday, they’ll try to ride Jon Garland (11-7, 4.26 ERA). The right-hander has won three of his last four starts despite a 4.97 ERA over that span.
He was outstanding at Tropicana Field on May 9, pitching eight shutout innings before reliever Justin Speier gave up a walk-off home run to Evan Longoria in Tampa Bay’s 2-0 win. Garland has never lost in St. Petersburg, going 3-0 with a 2.13 ERA in six career starts.
He’ll be opposed by Andy Sonnanstine (12-6, 4.35). The Rays’ leader in victories has been sharp this month, going 2-0 with a 2.33 ERA in three August starts.
The right-hander has struggled against Los Angeles, however, going 0-1 with a 6.00 ERA in two career starts. He gave up five runs in five innings but did not receive a decision in Tampa Bay’s 8-5 win on May 11.
The Angels took two of three from the Rays in Anaheim from June 9-11, but would still need to sweep this set to avoid losing the season series for only the second time. They are 65-36 all-time against the Rays.