PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Having managed in the American League East, Joe Maddon knows all about tough competition.
But the Tampa Bay Rays manager believes the entire league -- and not just his own division -- is deeper in 2012 and the margin for error is smaller.
"Thickerer,'' said Maddon Sunday. "Is that a word? It's really intimidating sometimes. I think Toronto's a lot better. We played Toronto a few days ago and their lineup is good. And they've got this one guy (Jose Bautista) who's at another level. Then you look at what Detroit's done (with Prince Fielder), what the the Angels have done (with Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson), what Texas is today. It's gotten increasingly more difficult."
"That's why you're always looking for the edge. Where's this one or two or three more (wins)? Where did you get those from? We won 91 games last year -- how do you find 92, 93, 95 (wins)? Where are those games this year? That's where I think when you work on these things and prepare, if you have a bunch of players who buy into the little things, you have a chance for 92, 93, 94, and 95. If you have a bunch of guys who do not, it's hard to find those four, five six games you need.
"The razor-thin edge between winning and losing has become even finer right now.''
As difficult as the East is, Maddon believes the unbalanced schedule helps the Rays in the long run.
"I just think playing in our division makes us better, faster,'' he said. "I've always believed that. People ask, 'Don't you want to get out of the A.L. East?' Why? This is the best place to learn. I think, for our guys, the learning curve has been accelerated because we play here.
"But in general teams, it's going to be more difficult (to reach the post-season). Offense is on the decline, but the pitching's gotten a lot better all over the place.''