Rays bracing for tight AL East race

Rays bracing for tight AL East race

ST. PETERSBURG -- From first to last, the five teams in the American League East are separated by just three games after two months. Rays manager Joe Maddon said he doesn't think that gap will widen anytime soon.

"I believe it's going to be like this all season," Maddon said. "I don't believe anybody is going to truly separate themselves. With everything I've seen to this point, it's going to be kind of that thick race."

Tampa Bay currently leads the division over Baltimore by a game with two more meetings this weekend between the two clubs. The Yankees are just half a game behind Baltimore, and Boston and Toronto are each three games back of the lead.

Despite being on top of the division, the Rays have been far from lucky through the first two months with nine players currently on the disabled list, including outfielder Desmond Jennings and third baseman Evan Longoria.

Jennings went 1-for-4 on a rehab assignment with Port Charlotte and is expected to be back with the team within a week. Maddon said Friday that Longoria is still a couple weeks away from a rehab assignment, but is optimistic when his team does get healthy.

"Once you get the guys back, everybody's in the right spots, I do believe you're going to see us become a more consistent baseball team," Maddon said. "Don't get too worried about stuff or wrapped up in emotion and I think good things are going to happen when these guys start to return."

For now, though, Maddon has to deal with what he has and is taking it just one game at a time.

"You play the same game on this day that you do in April," Maddon said. "I really don't apply more weight to any particular game. I don't want our players to. Last year, we were nine and a half games out on September 1 and we were able to win."