With a shrinking divisional lead -- three games over Boston entering on Thursday -- Tampa Bay doesn't have the luxury of cruising to what would be a franchise-first playoff berth. Already saddled with injuries -- the team is currently without starting left fielder Carl Crawford and third baseman Evan Longoria -- manager Joe Maddon has little room to give his starters a break.
So the Rays will continue to wrap it up, ice it down and try to persevere through the biggest month in franchise history.
Welcome to a meaningful September.
"One more month," shortstop Jason Bartlett said. "We are right there."
Bartlett is among the players whom Maddon has tried to rest when possible, as a right knee sprain put the infielder on the disabled list for 16 games earlier this season.
"It's doing all right," Bartlett said of his knee. "Obviously, it doesn't feel great, but it is September and everybody's got aches and pains."
As the Rays head into Thursday's finale vs. the Yankees -- the third of a 19-game stretch against opponents in contention -- they are doing everything possible to stay fresh.
With the blessing of Maddon, B.J. Upton has been excused from pregame batting practice. The center fielder said he felt -- and performed -- much better during the mid-August series in Texas, where the team did not take BP before the games.
Upton has had left shoulder problems in the past, and he said he opted to "save his swings for the game" to help maximize his effectiveness.
Maddon said he had "no problem" with Upton's request, adding that he didn't think pregame batting practice was anything more than tradition this late in the season.
The Rays are hoping preventive measures -- such as allotting backstop Dioner Navarro a few extra days rest this week after he was plagued by hamstring cramps -- will help them go late into the season.
With 25 games to go the Rays could very well be making history, a fact not lost on veteran players such as Cliff Floyd.
"Opportunities like this don't come around too often," Floyd said. " You don't want to look back and go, 'I could have played if I put my mind to it.'
"There's no in between, no like when you are [feeling] normal -- try. You can play or you can't. And that's pretty much how we stand right now. At this time of year, you just have to tape it up and get as much treatment as you can and play."Pitching matchup
TB: LHP Scott Kazmir (10-6, 3.13 ERA)
Kazmir notched his 10th win of the season against Baltimore on Friday night, tossing 5 1/3 innings of shutout baseball. He scattered three hits and three walks while striking out six. The 24-year-old left-hander has struggled with his mechanics lately, and he has worked all season with little luck to gain command of his slider, which has historically been his best pitch. Although he fared better on Friday night, Kazmir is still focusing on finding a way to pitch deeper into games. He has not gone longer than six innings since tossing seven shutout frames against Oakland on July 21. He will be making his 23rd start of the season on Thursday, his third against New York. NYY: RHP Darrell Rasner (5-9, 5.08 ERA)
Rasner held the Blue Jays to two runs through six innings and was economical with just 67 throws Saturday. But when he was sent back out for the seventh, Rasner allowed two hits and a walk. He was tagged for five runs total (four earned) to pick up the no-decision. It marked just the third time in his past 10 starts that Rasner pitched at least six innings. He gave up six hits, striking out one and recording one walk. Rasner has not faced Tampa Bay this season. Tidbits
Tuesday's game opened a 19-game stretch in which the Rays will face an opponent in playoff contention. ... Upton's steal in the bottom of the fifth inning on Wednesday night was the outfielder's 41st swipe this season. Upton leads the team in that category and entered Thursday's game tied for second in the Majors, trailing only Boston's Jacoby Ellsbury. ... The Durham Bulls, the Rays' Triple-A affiliate, defeated host Louisville (Reds), 3-0, in Game 1 of the International League playoffs on Wednesday night. Top prospect David Price tossed five shutout innings in the win with six strikeouts. Elliot Johnson, Dan Johnson and Chris Richard each homered. Tickets
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Friday: Rays (Andy Sonnanstine, 13-6, 4.61) at Blue Jays (Roy Halladay, 17-9, 2.69), 7:07 p.m. ET
Saturday: Rays (James Shields, 12-8, 3.66) at Blue Jays (Shaun Marcum, 8-6, 3.60), 1:07 p.m. ET
Sunday: Rays (Matt Garza, 11-8, 3.64) at Blue Jays (David Purcey, 2-5, 6.15), 1:07 p.m. ET
Brittany Ghiroli is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less