But, each year is different, and this year the same question must be asked --
Can the Rays catch, and stay ahead of, the New York Yankees?
I took a little looksie at the Rays' and Yankees' schedules for the remainder of the year. Things actually don't look very good for the Rays... on paper.
Sure, the Rays have won 14 of their last 17 games. Those three losses, though, have come against teams under .500. One of them, as we all know, the Rays fell victim to Felix Hernandez and a perfect game.
The Rays still have five series (out of seven) against teams over .500. The two teams they do play that are under .500 (Boston and Toronto) aren't that far under .500.
Here's the breakdown: They've got two more games against the Oakland A's (67-57), six more games against the Texas Rangers (73-51), seven more games against Toronto (56-68), six more games against the division-leading New York Yankees (72-52), six more games against the Baltimore Orioles (third place in the AL East; 67-57), six more games against the Boston Red Sox (59-66), and four more games against the AL Central-leading Chicago White Sox (68-55).
To be fair, we are talking about catching the first place team to get into the playoffs, but the Rays are in a four-way tie for the lead in the Wildcard race. Note: The Wildcard race now includes two teams for each league.
So here is the Yankees schedule for the rest of the regular season:
They've got three more games against the Cleveland Indians (54-70), 10 more games against the Toronto Blue Jays, seven more games against Baltimore, six more games against the Rays, six more games against Boston, three more games against the A's, and then they close out the season with a three-game set against the Minnesota Twins (51-73).
That leaves them with three series against teams with a +.500 record, as opposed to the five by the Rays. And where the Rays' series against +.500 teams are spread out throughout the rest of the season, the Yankees have two sub-.500 teams at the beginning and two sub-.500 at the end of the season.
Here's a little comfort Rays fans, though -- the Rays are 33-27 against the teams they're playing the rest of the season. That includes a 9-2 record against Toronto (whom they play seven more times), and a 7-5 record against New York.
The Yankees boast a similar record with their remaining opponents.
David Price and James Shields have been on top of their games lately. Alex Cobb just came up big with his first big league complete game shutout. Evan Longoria is back! On paper it might not look great, but fans have got to be excited about the Rays' chances.
And despite being in a four-way tie for two Wildcard spots, the Rays are not guaranteed a spot in the playoffs. This year's chase may not be the same, ridiculous, hair-ray-azing fiasco as last year's chase, but get ready. Make sure your bath fans are in proper working order (the Rays do often cause vomit-inducing emotional swings). Get your bunker materials ready to go. The Rays are coming for you, Yankees.