The Tampa Bay Devil* Rays took two of three games from the Toronto Blue Jays in the first series following the All-Star break. The two wins helped the Rays climb back into first place in the AL East with a 1.5 game lead on the Boston Red Sox.
The Rays used their first-half formula to good effect against Toronto: solid pitching, good defense and timely hitting. James Shields and Matt Garza dominated the first two games of the series and share my series MVP award with third baseman Evan Longoria. Longoria whacked two more home runs in the series, including an impressive grand slam off of Toronto ace Roy Halladay in the second game of the series. Longoria's batting average now trails only Dioner Navarro's and Akinori Iwamura's for the team lead.
The Rays can stay in the playoff race with pitching and defense, but the batting will determine how far this team goes this season. The meat of the order is batting below career average, with Carlos Pena, Carl Crawford and B. J. Upton all struggling somewhat at the plate. Each player has been reasonably productive, but the team could really string some wins together and do some playoff damage if the bats come around.
I keep saying that, but the season gets older and older and it doesn't seem to be happening. Perhaps this just isn't the year, but there's still time for a team hot streak.