When the All-Star break arrived on July 9, the Tampa Bay Rays were legitimate contenders for a playoff berth. They were 47-43 and tied for second place with the New York Yankees in the American League East.
They were three and one-half games behind the division-leading Boston Red Sox thanks to taking three of four games at home heading into the break. This space said “one month from now it should be clear whether they can actually contend for a postseason berth or be labeled as a pretender.” That piece concluded with “we are about to see what this team is made of.”
One month later, the verdict is in. The Rays have played themselves into “pretender” status.
Things started out well enough. Tampa Bay went 4-2 on a West Coast road trip to Anaheim and Oakland. Their other 8 games away from home was a late July and early August that stretch saw them go 4-4 against the Yankees and Houston Astros.
The problem is their shocking inability to win at home. The Rays are only 4-11 at Tropicana Field since the All-Star break.
What has happened over the past month has been disappointing, but not for reasons many expected. While pitching was thought to be the area of most concern, and one addressed by management in July, it is the sudden silence from Rays’ bats that is most perplexing.
Following heavy activity before the July 31 trading deadline and the 4-4 road trip against two tough teams, Tampa Bay appeared ready to get squarely into the post season mix with a 9-game home stand against the Milwaukee Brewers, the Red Sox and the Cleveland Indians.
Instead, the Rays fell into what seems to be a death spiral. Not only did they lose 7 of the 9 games, they were shut out 5 times!
The buckets of strikeouts have returned and scoring has become a tough challenge. The pitching staff gave up only 7 runs to Milwaukee in the three games combined, yet the Rays lost all three. Pitchers allowed five runs or more in only two games, yet the team could win only two.
Now, one month after they headed into the second half with so much hope, the Rays now sit 9 games behind the Red Sox in the East Division with a 59-61 record. Instead of contending for a division title, they are only one game ahead of Toronto Blue Jays, who sit in last place.
Officially, the Rays are still in the Wild Card hunt. They are two and one-half games behind the Los Angeles Angels, but they first must climb over four other teams before they get to the Angels.
Monday’s game against the Blue Jays epitomizes Tampa Bay’s struggles. Jake Odorizzi and three relievers held Toronto to two runs and 5 hits, yet the Rays lost 2-1. Two more like that and the Rays will become a cellar dweller.
“I don’t have any good answers,” said manager Kevin Cash after the game. “I know it’s my responsibility to have answers, (but) I don’t have them right now. I guess a couple of the underlying things we can look at, we hit some balls really hard. We hit some balls really high. It looked like we had four or five near misses.”
Before the season ends, the Rays could somehow find their hitting stroke again and make it to the post season, but that seems unlikely. At this point, they have the look of a pretender.