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Buster Olney on M&M: Rays’ schedule, lack of production from star bats could doom them in AL East race

09.04.13 at 2:05 pm ET
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ESPN’€™s Buster Olney joined Mut & Merloni on Wednesday and talked about the uphill battle the Rays face in catching the Red Sox for the AL East title, particularly considering Tampa Bay’€™s difficult schedule down the stretch.

After a Tampa Bay loss to the Angels combined with a Red Sox win Tuesday night, the Rays dropped 5½ games behind Boston with 25 games remaining.

Those remaining 25 games include the conclusion of a West Coast trip with the Angels and Mariners, followed by a three-game series with the Red Sox, an eight-game homestand vs. the Rangers and the Orioles, and road trips to the Yankees, Twins and Blue Jays.

Of equal concern to Olney was the previous two weeks for the Rays.

‘€œI had the Rays as having the toughest schedule in the majors in the second half among the contenders, but I don’€™t think I so much focused on the 37 games in 38 days thing like I should have,’€ Olney said.

On Aug. 23, the Rays started a 38-day stretch of playing 37 games. Those games included and include pivotal AL East series vs. the Red Sox, Yankees and Orioles, a makeup game with the Royals wedged between two home series, and a 10-day West Coast trip.

‘€œThe idea that even among their few homestands they had left down the stretch, they had to have the one-game makeup where they play a home game in Tampa Bay, then fly to Kansas City, then fly back and play three games against the Angels, then head out on the West Coast ‘€¦ it’€™s a meat grinder,’€ Olney said.

Olney did recognize Tampa Bay’€™s fantastic starting pitching as a reason that the Rays could make a comeback.

‘€œWell you see that they could come back because they’ve got David Price, they’ve got Matt Moore, who threw really well last night, Alex Cobb is certainly capable of really good things,’€ Olney said.

However, Olney also talked about the struggles of a few key offensive contributors.

‘€œThe other factor on that team is we think of Evan Longoria and Ben Zobrist as really great star players,’€ said Olney. ‘€œThey really haven’€™t been in the second half, they just haven’€™t hit as well as they normally would. Unless those guys really turn it on, I don’€™t think the Rays are going to catch the Red Sox.’€

If the Rays hope to surpass the Sox, they’€™ll need Boston’€™s dominant rotation of late to slow down.

‘€œIf you’€™re the Red Sox, and you remember back in mid-July and you’€™re looking at your rotation and you’€™re seeing a lot of cracks. And now you’ve got Jon Lester throwing great, and you’ve got Jake Peavy, you’ve got John Lackey, and you might have Clay Buchholz coming back, I mean, what a different feel,’€ Olney said.

The latest strong performance came Tuesday night when Lester allowed just one run in seven innings to a potent Tigers lineup in Boston’€™s 2-1 win.

‘€œIt really seemed like he was pitching with as much confidence as we’€™ve seen out of him,’€ Olney said.

To hear the interview, go to the Mut & Merloni audio on demand page. For more Red Sox news, visit the team page at weei.com/redsox.

Read More: Ben Zobrist, Clay Buchholz, David Price, Evan Longoria
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