At some point in Spring Training, you might have looked at this series between the Rays and the Red Sox at Tropicana Field and circled it on your calendar. Four games between the two American League East rivals as the dog days of August turn into the rush of September?
These two clubs battled back and forth right into the AL Division Series last season, and the expectation heading into this year was no different for the defending World Series champion Red Sox and the Rays, picked by many to reach this year's Fall Classic.
As Rays manager Joe Maddon put it Friday, "It would be hard to have fathomed" that the clubs would be where they are at this point -- below .500, fourth and fifth in the AL East.
But that's where they'll find themselves Saturday night as Rays right-hander Jake Odorizzi and Red Sox righty Allen Webster look to rebound from rough outings and rookie shortstop Xander Bogaerts seeks to salvage what's left of his season.
Odorizzi is coming off the poorest start of his career against Baltimore on Monday, when he gave up eight runs on 11 hits, including four homers. Battling a mechanical flaw in his delivery and a potent Orioles lineup, he became the first Ray to allow back-to-back homers twice in the same game.
"I wish I'd done a lot of things different," Odorizzi said. "My pitch selection wasn't that good, and I think I got into a habit and they saw it, and they're a good team. They pick up on things like that.
"Just another start, really. Doesn't really matter about the last one. Just move on to the next one. That's kind of how it is when you have a good start, too. I'm worried about Boston, not Baltimore."
Webster, meanwhile, allowed six runs on eight hits and two walks Sunday against the Mariners. He picked up the win in his only appearance against the Rays, giving up two runs on three hits and five walks over 5 1/3 innings on July 27 at Tropicana Field.
As for Bogaerts, the infielder expects to be activated for Saturday's game after spending a week on the disabled list with a mild concussion. The highly touted 21-year-old is hitting just .223 with eight homers and 30 RBIs, and he believes the time away from the field might actually help him down the stretch.
"Hopefully it benefits me," Bogaerts said. "I got some rest -- rest that I needed. I'll try to finish the season strong."
Red Sox: Castillo nearing Minor League action
Cuban outfielder Rusney Castillo continues to work at the Red Sox's Spring Training facility in Fort Myers, Fla., and he could see some game action this weekend with the Gulf Coast League Red Sox. The GCL Red Sox open a playoff series on Saturday in Tampa against the Yankees' affiliate. The clubs play in Fort Myers on Sunday.
Castillo was signed to a seven-year, $72 million contract last week but hasn't played organized baseball since the end of the 2012 season.
"I think we're all looking forward to seeing him on the field, no doubt," Red Sox manager John Farrell said Friday afternoon.
Rays: Time running out on the season
Realistically, the Rays' odds of making the postseason at this point are almost nonexistent. In fact, Baseball Prospectus gives Tampa Bay a 0.3 percent shot at an AL Wild Card spot. But Maddon continues to preach an optimistic message, even if he's fully aware how unlikely a playoff berth would be.
"You'd have to get likely extremely torrid right now," Maddon said. "Incendiary."
Indeed, the Rays would have to finish the season 20-7 just to reach 85 wins, and that might not even be enough to lock down the second AL Wild Card spot. Maddon pointed to Tampa Bay's 1-14 stretch from late May through early June as the main reason the club is so far behind in the standings.
"The 1-14 really is kind of anti-magic dust," Maddon said. "That's just an abnormal moment for us. That 1-14 kind of precluded us from being able to acquire any magic dust this season. Although we still have time left."
• The Rays committed two errors in Friday's 8-4 loss to the Red Sox, giving them errors in six straight games, their longest such streak since May 18-25, 2012 (seven straight). As a team, they have committed 73 errors this season after putting up only 59 all of last season, the second-lowest total in Major League history.
• At 21 years old, Mookie Betts on Friday became the youngest Red Sox player to hit a grand slam since Tony Conigliaro did so at 20 years old on Aug. 24, 1965, against Washington.