Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
After nipping at Boston's heels for the better part of a month, the Tampa Bay Rays are finally where they want to be. They're alone in first place in the AL East.
Call me crazy, but I think they have what it takes to stay there.
Why am I feeling so confident about Tampa? Well, I have my reasons. Here are ten of them.
1. David Price is back. Monday night at Fenway Park, rain poured down from the heavens, soaking the field and the 37,000 Red Sox fans that were in attendance.
Call it a gift from the baseball gods.
Surely the 45-minute rain delay and the seven innings he already threw would be enough to knock David Price out of the game ... right?
Not on this night. There Price was, all six feet and six inches of him, on the mound to start the eighth inning.
And he didn't disappoint. With the win, Price improved to 5-1 for the month. In July, he's tossed three complete games with a WHIP in the zeros (0.70) and an ERA under two (1.68). In his last 48 1/3 innings, the 2012 Cy Young winner has walked a grand total of one batter.
He's cruising right now and so are the Rays.
Coincidence? I think not.
2. Wil Myers is living up to the hype. We're not sure why he spells his name with one L but when you're hitting .331 for a first place team, you can get away with practically anything.
It's okay, Wil. Go ahead and add "Rookie of the Year" to your LinkedIn page.
The 22-year-old is hitting a jaw-dropping .465 with an .837 slugging percentage since his 11-game hitting streak began on July 13th.
The Rays' record during that stretch? Nine and two.
Maybe I should start spelling my name with only one S. Jese Pantuosco. I think I could live with that.
3. The mysterious Clay Buchholz: Remember that old skit on Saturday Night Live with Will Ferrell and Cheri Oteri playing Spartan cheerleaders?
"Bobby Fischer. Where is he? I don't know! I don't know! Where is he? I don't know! I don't know! Go ask your mama, and make sure you listen, 'cause one thing is for sure, Bobby Fischer's missin!"
Speaking of missing people, where in the world is Clay Buchholz? He's been out with a shoulder injury since June 8th and nobody knows when he's coming back.
Jake Peavy may sell tickets but he's not the answer to Boston's starting pitching woes. Since 2008, Peavy only has one ten-win season and his ERA has been higher than four three out of the last four seasons. With Ryan Dempster and Jon Lester looking as mediocre as ever (combined 11-12 with a 4.63 ERA since May 1st), Buchholz (9-0, 1.71 ERA) needs to come back for this team to have any chance of winning the AL East.
4. The Yankees aren't coming back. This is already common knowledge but as a Native New Englander, I am very content to rub it in. It's the least I could do after Aaron Boone ruined my year in 2003.
Clearly a college degree and two years of having my own fantasy column haven't made me any less petty.
CC Sabathia's ERA is the highest it's been since ... well ever (4.65 in 22 starts) and before Sunday, the Yankees hadn't hit a home run in 309 second half at bats. Derek Jeter's blast was the team's first long ball by a righthanded hitter since June 5th.
At least the Bombers have A-Rod's return to look forward to. What's the old saying, "Bad karma wins championships?"
5. And neither are the Orioles. Things aren't quite as dire for the Orioles as they are for the Yanks. But if they want to win this thing, they better get going.
The O's have lost five out of their last seven and are now five games behind Tampa and four and a half behind Boston in the AL East.
Part of the problem has been Chris Davis. He's hitting just .220 since the All-Star break with 21 strikeouts in 41 at bats. Manny Machado, an All-Star for Baltimore in the first half, has been even worse. His batting average has slipped to .159 in the second half with a .213 on base percentage.
Baltimore has the talent to turn things around and the addition of Bud Norris should help. But with the Rays and Red Sox playing at such a high level right now, they don't have time for another slump.
6. The Rays swing for the fences: Home runs can't fix everything. Just most things.
The Rays are on pace for 180 home runs this season, their most since 2009.
Go big or go home, right?
Speaking of home, the Rays are hitting .267 in Tampa this season, fifth-best in the American League.
Seriously, is there anything this team isn't good at?
7. They don't make errors: It makes me cringe when teams give their opponents second chances. Luckily, that doesn't happen too often in Tampa Bay.
Only the Orioles have committed fewer errors than Tampa this season (.990 fielding percentage). That kind of nifty glove work could go a long way in September.
8. Evan Longoria is healthy (knock on wood). After two injury-plagued seasons in a row, Longoria has actually been able to stay on the field in 2013.
He's only missed three games, a huge improvement from last season when he missed 88. Since 2011, the Rays are 181-130 with Longoria in the lineup (.582 win percentage). Without him, they're just 64-56 (.533 win percentage).
If Longoria (.275, 21 HR, 58 RBI) stays healthy down the stretch, you have to like the Rays' chances.
9. Fernando Rodney has turned things around. They say April showers bring May flowers. This year in Tampa Bay, it just brought a lot of ninth inning drama.
Rodney blew four saves in May and finished the month with a 5.65 ERA. Since then, he's gone a perfect 15-for-15 in save chances while allowing just six earned runs in 21 innings (2.57 ERA). His strikeouts per nine innings over that span is just under 13 (12.86).
Suddenly the ninth inning has become, dare I say it, a little dull.
That's not a bad problem to have.
10. When did James Loney become a superstar? First, the Dodgers didn't want him. Then the Red Sox didn't want him. Then nobody wanted him.
So, what did the Rays do?
They said, "Hey, we kind of want him."
All Loney's done this season is hit for the fifth-highest average in the American League (.316).
So who wants Loney now?
The Rays have the second-best record in baseball and they're doing it with the third-lowest payroll.