American League Wild Card Standings
(updated 8.20.2012 at 4:21 PM EDT)
So Richard Justice believes the Rays are now the best team in baseball? Thanks for the jinx big guy! After all, it is only the Royals coming to down fresh off a sweep of the Chicago White Sox with memories steamrolling the Rays 21 to 6 in a three-game series in late June. The Royals are also now in third place in the AL Central as they have surpassed the Cleveland Indians in the standings.
The Royals had success against the Rays last time around by making a lot of contact and forcing the then-suspect defense to make plays. That should continue as the Royals still have the lowest team strikeout rate in all of baseball at 16.3 percent. The Royals have also been running more of late since recalling Jarrod Dyson from the minors as the team has 45 stolen bases in its last 36 games.
The other factor in that series were the left-handed pitchers that limited the offense in two of the three games. This time around, the only lefty starter the Rays will face is tonight's starter Will Smith who does not miss many bats and has struggled to keep the ball in the park. Luis Mendoza closes out the series who does not struggle with the long ball but also pitches to more contact than most pitchers. In between them comes Luke Hochevar.
The last time the Rays faced Hochevar, he threw a complete game shutout scattering seven hits while walking just one and striking out eight. Since that start, Hochevar has allowed 68 baserunners in just 50.1 innings of work and has surrendered an incredible 12 home runs.
The Rays play just six games against sub-.500 teams in their next 22 games with this series representing half of those games. If they are to entertain these visions of an American League East pennant, they can ill-afford to lose another series to a sub .500 team. The team is 39-22 against the Royals at Tropicana Field in franchise history .