The Rays were nine games behind the Red Sox in the wild card standings as recently as Sept. 2, but they enter a four-game series at Fenway Park on Thursday in control of their own destiny. It is still a considerable margin to overcome -- and probably won't be overcome -- but if Tampa Bay sweeps Boston for the second consecutive weekend, the two clubs will be tied with 10 games remaining.
While the probability of the Rays actually making the playoffs is slim -- coolstandings.com gives them a 4.8 percent chance; Baseball Prospectus says it's only 1.6 percent likely -- they have at least injected some interest into the seasons final few weeks and do have a few things going in their favor that could help their longshot odds:
* The Rays are 8-3 in their last 11; the Sox are 3-8.
* The Rays are 39-29 in regular-season games against the Sox since the start of 2008. During that time the Rays won four straight meetings four times, though only once were the four games in the same series.
* The Rays continue to get outstanding starting pitching (see below) while the Red Sox are scrambling to fill starts, though Josh Beckett returns on Friday.
So while the chance of the Rays overtaking the Sox is very small, they have been playing much better baseball of late and overtake the Red Sox by a spot in this week's Power Rankings.
NOTE: All stats are updated through Wednesday, Sept. 14.
MLB Power Rankings