The Tampa Bay Devil* Rays swept the Boston Red Sox in a three game home series for the second time this season, grabbing the third game with another tense one-run victory before a sellout crowd.
The victory moves the Rays to a 3.5 game lead over Boston in the AL East with just over half the season played. The sweep reasonably establishes the Rays as the top challenger to Boston for the AL East crown. One cannot write off the Yankees, however, simply because George Steinbrenner is capable of fielding a completely different team by the end of the season if he chooses. I don't think the present version of the Yankees can compete with Boston or Tampa Bay. The Yanks need pitching, and their outfield defense is weak.
The contest shaping up between the Sox and the Rays is tough to judge. Boston has the clear edge in batting, though the Rays may improve dramatically in that department by the end of the year. The Rays have better defense and speed. Starting pitching is strong for both clubs, but the Rays' bullpen has outperformed Boston's. Finally, Boston is the more experienced club.
Boston should probably win the East, but that could change with a key injury.
Shortstop Jason Bartlett had hits in each of the three games against Boston, and his double/stolen base in the seventh helped ignite the Rays' comeback. Bartlett gets the series MVP award, edging pitcher Grant Balfour.
The Rays' front office has done a great job putting this team together, and Bartlett was a key acquisition in the offseason. The new shortstop provides the best defense the Rays have seen at that position, and he brought an adequate bat along with good speed to the lineup. Though I have praised Delmon Young's play from last year, Young hinted early on that he looked forward to moving on from Tampa Bay. Talented or not, you don't need a player like that on your team. Getting Matt Garza and Bartlett from the Twins for Young and Brendan Harris helped position the Rays for the excellent season they're enjoying.
On the "J. T. the Brick" radio show I caught Yankeefan guaranteeing that "Dice-K" would beat the Rays on Wednesday. And the Yankees would win the division. Here's hoping the second prediction is as good as the first.