The Week Ahead: Last chance for Rays

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rays_090906.jpgWith apologies to the Philadelphia Phillies, the Tampa Bay Rays were the story of the postseason last year. They were the plucky little low-budget engine that could, discarding all comers — including mighty Boston in the ALCS — until meeting up with the eventual champions in the World Series.

They’ve still got a nice ballclub, entering the week at 72-64 and possessing the best team ERA in the AL East. But alas it hasn’t been enough to keep up with the division bullies known as the Yankees and Red Sox.

(Go here for a nice breakdown of all the playoff races)

If ever there was a week to rediscover the magic of 2008, this would be it. They can forget about catching the Yankees, who they trail by 14 1/2 games. And sitting 7 games behind the AL wild-card leading Red Sox, things are looking bleak. Also in the mix are the Texas Rangers, who are three games behind Boston, and four ahead of Tampa Bay.

But with all of that considered, the Rays still have a chance to make a move, but they have to do it now. They head to the Bronx for a four-game set against the Yankees, including a double-header on Monday. Then over the weekend they’ll be in Fenway for three games against the Red Sox.

A mediocre showing won’t be enough. They have to get hot. They have to go on a streak and gain some ground.

After this week, the Rays will only have 19 games left to play this season. If they’re still sitting 7 games back in the wild card chase, they can start making fishing plans. The Trop won’t be rocking in October.

It won’t be terribly surprising if the Rays fail, but it will still be a little sad. Everyone likes to root for an underdog. But the Rays’ run in the spotlight might be just about finished. Always facing budget issues, the Rays will have to make decisions on Carl Crawford ($10 million option), Akinori Iwamura ($4.35 million option) and Jason Bartlett (arbitration), among others this offseason.

Is the Rays’ dream over? Anything less than a huge week could prove it so.

FIVE SERIES TO WATCH
Rays at Yankees, Sept. 7-9:
Garza vs. Sabathia kicks off this key series, which begins with a doubleheader on Monday. The Rays are 5-6 against the Yankees this season.

Mariners at Angels, Sept. 8-10: The Mariners have made a nice run this season, but any serious thoughts at contending could end this week. After this series, Seattle heads to Texas.

Mets at Phillies, Sept. 11-13: Will the Mets collapse again late this season and surrender the division to the Phillies? Oh wait, that was last year. Yeah, I wouldn’t expect too much trash talk this time around.

Dodgers at Giants, Sept. 11-13: The Giants may be too far behind to catch L.A. But there’s still the wild-card chase, making this a huge series in San Francisco.

Rays at Red Sox, Sept. 11-13: It’s sort of become a mini-rivalry over the last couple seasons, but while the Rays remain a winning team, they remain a distant third in the AL East. Is there time to rediscover the magic?

ON THE TUBE
Wednesday, 7:05 p.m.: Rays at Yankees (ESPN)
Wednesday, 10:10 p.m.: Dodgers at Diamondbacks (ESPN)
*Saturday, 4:10 p.m.: White Sox at Angels (FOX)
*Saturday, 4:10 p.m.:  Mets at Phillies (FOX)
*Saturday, 4:10 p.m.:  Braves at Cardinals (FOX)
Sunday, 4 p.m.: Dodgers at Giants (TBS)
Sunday, 8:05 p.m.: Mets at Phillies (ESPN)
*Check local listings

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If you Twitter, you can find me there at @Bharks.

Jeurys Familia blew another save

NEW YORK, NY - JULY 26: Pitcher Jeurys Familia #27 of the New York Mets delivers a pitch against the St. Louis Cardinals in the ninth inning during game two of a doubleheader at Citi Field on July 26, 2016 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. The Mets defeated the Cardinals 3-1.(Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)
Rich Schultz/Getty Images
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Usually, a pitcher blowing two saves isn’t noteworthy, even if it’s on back-to-back days. But Mets closer Jeurys Familia had successfully saved 52 consecutive games before the Cardinals put an end to that on Wednesday night.

The Mets opened up a four-game home series against the Rockies on Thursday afternoon. Because Familia had appeared in consecutive games, manager Terry Collins told the media, including MLB.com’s Anthony DiComo, after last night’s game that the right-hander would get a day off and Addison Reed would serve as the fill-in closer.

The Mets rode a 1-0 lead through eight innings and wouldn’t you know it, Familia took the hill to start the ninth inning. Things quickly got out of hand. Trevor Story led the inning off with a single, then stole second base. David Dahl drew a walk, and Daniel Descalso followed up by loading the bases with a bunt single thanks in large part to a mental error by catcher Rene Rivera.

Familia then got Cristhian Adames on what could’ve been a game-ending 1-6-3 double play. But first baseman James Loney booted the ball, allowing a run to score and everyone else to advance safely. Even if Loney got the ball, though, Familia wasn’t anywhere close to first base to cover on a double play attempt. Charlie Blackmon stepped to the plate and Familia uncorked a wild pitch on a 1-1 fastball, allowing the go-ahead run to score.

Collins ordered Familia to load the bases by intentionally walking Blackmon, then brought in Hansel Robles, who escaped the inning without any further damage by striking out D.J. LeMahieu and getting Nolan Arenado to pop up. The Mets were unable to get any offense going against Rockies closer Carlos Estevez, who set the side down in 1-2-3 fashion to lock up the 2-1 victory.

After Thursday’s outing, Familia is now 36-for-38 in save situations on the season with a 3.14 ERA and a 49/22 K/BB ratio in 48 2/3 innings.

Phillies place Peter Bourjos on the DL and activate Aaron Altherr

Aaron Altherr
AP Photo/Winslow Townson
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The Phillies placed outfielder Peter Bourjos on the 15-day disabled list with a right shoulder sprain and activated outfielder Aaron Altherr from the 60-day disabled list, the club announced on Thursday.

Bourjos, 29, injured his shoulder robbing Marlins outfielder Ichiro Suzuki of a hit on Tuesday. It was a pretty nifty grab. He hits the DL with an uninspiring .253/.290/.384 triple-slash line but he had been on a hot streak, compiling a .938 OPS between June 21 and July 21. It’s also bad timing for the Phillies, who probably would have traded Bourjos ahead of Monday’s non-waiver trade deadline.

Altherr, 25, suffered a torn tendon sheath in his right wrist on a diving catch attempt in early March during spring training. He impressed in 161 plate appearances last season, batting .241/.338/.489 with five home runs, 22 RBI, 25 runs scored, and six stolen bases. Altherr is in Thursday’s starting lineup, batting fifth and playing right field.