Sweep-hungry Rays head to Chicago

Sweep-hungry Rays head to Chicago

ST. PETERSBURG -- The Rays absolutely love playing at home. But, no offense to the Florida faithful, Tampa Bay's players would prefer not to return to Tropicana Field until the American League Championship Series.

That is suddenly a realistic proposition with the Rays holding a 2-0 edge over the White Sox in the AL Division Series, courtesy of a pair of victories inside the Trop -- a very unfriendly environment for visitors this season. Tampa Bay has a series sweep in mind as it heads to U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago for Game 3 on Sunday.

complete postseason coverage
The Cell hasn't exactly been easy on its guests this season, either. That's one reason the Rays aren't taking the White Sox lightly as they prep for the pivotal game on the South Side. Perhaps Tampa Bay can take some comfort in knowing that 27 of the 31 teams to hold a 2-0 series lead in LDS history have moved on to the next round.

"It ain't over until it's over," Rays catcher Dioner Navarro said. "We know that those guys, they can overcome this deficit. We're going to go there and play hard just like we've been doing the whole season and, hopefully, we finish this thing up in Chicago."

That could be a difficult task.

The White Sox own a 54-28 record at U.S. Cellular Field, representing the third-highest win total at home in the AL. Only the Rays, with 57 wins at the Trop, and the Red Sox, who claimed 56 victories at Fenway Park, topped the showing by the White Sox. Much of Chicago's success at home has come via the home run.

The White Sox finished with a Major League-leading 143 home runs at home -- 31 more than the next-highest total. As a result, Chicago finished second to only Texas in the Majors with 472 runs in front of its local fans. Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon said there seems to be a jet stream above the outfield.

"The ball carries," Maddon said. "It really has a jet stream in right field -- normally down either line. It depends on whether it gets caught up in the middle of the field. Normally, the jet stream is right-center to right field."

Given that aspect of the ballpark, Tampa Bay's pitchers need to be careful with how they attack Chicago's potent lineup.

Fastest starts by expansion teams in their first postseason
1997 Florida Marlins4-0 (Swept San Francisco in the NLDS and won first game vs. Atlanta in NLCS)
1969 New York Mets3-0 (Swept Atlanta in the NLCS)
1985 Toronto Blue Jays2-0 (Won first two games of the ALCS vs. Kansas City)
2008 Tampa Bay Rays2-0 (Won first two games of ALDS vs. Chicago)
"They're a very explosive team," Rays left-hander Scott Kazmir said. "Almost every one of them, [Nos.] 1-9, is a power hitter and can really change the game with one swing. So you never can take them lightly. We just want to go to Chicago and take care of business."

Rays rookie Evan Longoria watched the White Sox defeat the Twins, 1-0, in a one-game playoff to determine the AL Central winner on Tuesday. During that game, Chicago fans wore dark clothes and waved black towels, taking part in an intimidating "blackout." Longoria expects the environment to be just as rowdy come Sunday -- especially with the Cubs trailing the Dodgers 2-0 in their National League Division Series as well.

"It's going to be, I'm sure, a wild atmosphere," Longoria said. "Their Chicago fans over there are probably not too happy with the way the Cubs have played in the postseason, and now, the White Sox. So there's probably going to be some hostility."

Even so, Longoria said he doesn't believe the Rays will feel a sense of urgency. He feels that capturing a 6-2 win over the White Sox in Game 2 on Friday night eliminated that type of mind-set. Tampa Bay might have felt different if Chicago left St. Petersburg with a series split.

"Us being at home for the first two," Longoria said, "and having this home-field advantage, we felt like we had to win. I think if we would've lost today, there would've been a sense of urgency for us to win the next one, only because now, they're 1-1, and they feel like they've broken our rhythm at home."

That didn't happen, though.


"Hopefully, we finish this thing up in Chicago."
-- Dioner Navarro

The Rays took the first two games at Tropicana Field, putting them in prime position to sweep Chicago. Of the 27 teams that have claimed a 2-0 lead in Division Series history, 21 clubs have successfully used the brooms. Earlier this season, the Rays nearly swept the White Sox in Chicago, too.

From Aug. 22-24, the Rays took two of three at U.S. Cellular Field. The lone loss came in the finale, a 6-5 defeat in 10 innings. This time around, Tampa Bay only needs one win, and the Rays are confident they can get the job done.

"Going to Chicago, up 2-0 -- it's big for us," Rays outfielder B.J. Upton said. "All year, you give us a little steam and we'll take an advantage of it. We'll definitely be looking to finish it off in Chicago."

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.