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Saturday, October 9, 2010
Yes, the Rays really can play this game


Nothing is inevitable. Except death (probably) and taxes (unless you've got a really good accountant).

Definitely nothing in baseball is inevitable.

But after the Rangers made the Rays look ridiculous -- twice -- didn't a sweep seem almost inevitable? Didn't it seem almost impossible that the Rays might eventually win this series?

The Rays won 96 games this season, playing in baseball's toughest division. They finished third in the American League in scoring and second in ERA. Their offense probably isn't that good -- I know they've run the bases with great flair this season, but the eighth-best OPS in the league just doesn't mean you've got the best offense in the league -- and some of their pitching prowess is irrelevant in a postseason series. But the Rays are, you know, really quite good. If they're not better than the Rangers in a Division Series, they're really, really, really close. And so you wouldn't expect them to get swept.

Which isn't to suggest they couldn't have been swept. Before this season, 11 of the past 20 Division Series lasted only three games. We wouldn't expect those numbers considering the qualities of the teams involved. But it's a funny game, and funny things happen.

Speaking of funny things, it would be foolish at this point to discount the Rays' chances too heavily. Game 4 is essentially a toss-up. Let's give the Rays a 45 percent chance of winning that one. If they do win, Game 5 is a Game 1 rematch, again in St. Petersburg. Cliff Lee's better than David Price, so let's give the Rays a 45 percent chance of winning that one, too.

Leaving aside the psychology of the thing (but their heads seemed just fine in Game 3), the Rays now have something like a 1-in-5 chance of winning this series. And if they win Game 4 ...

My point is that good teams lose two games in a row all the time, and sometimes they lose three in a row, too. When these things happen, they don't really tell us anything we didn't already know.