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Rays still in first, but losing streak continues

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The season goes along, and the Tampa Bay Rays keep losing parts. If this keeps up, there is no indication if they will be able to finish the season at all.

Another day, another ache.

Another game, another loss to another bad team.

After a while, it seems less like a celebration that the Rays are in first place in the American League East and more like an indictment of the division itself.

The Rays, still somehow in first place in the AL East, lost their third straight game Monday night at Tropicana Field. The Rays, playing against the worst team in the American League (Oakland) and a team that is tied for the third-worst (Seattle) have scored three runs in those losses. These days, home plate seems a long, long way away. They have scored in only two of their 27 innings.

Monday night, it was hardly surprising that the Rays lacked pop. Their starting lineup featured a fifth-place hitter (Tim Beckham) and a sixth-place hitter (Jake Elmore, who had two doubles) who were in the minor leagues 24 hours earlier, and an eighth- and a ninth-place hitter both batting below .150.

Missing were first baseman James Loney, who started a 4-6 week stint on the disabled list, outfielder Steven Souza Jr. (wrist sprain) and shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera (groin strain), both of whom are day to day.

Despite it all, the Rays are one-half game ahead of the New York Yankees in the division race. And how does that happen? Well, despite the losing streak, the Rays have been a bit better than most people believed. And the division has been far, far worse.

A day ago, the Rays were the only team in the division above .500. Since divisional play began in 1969, only once, 26 years ago, has a first-place team had a lower winning percentage than the Rays.

“These last three have all been a little bit similar,” manager Kevin Cash said. “We can’t quite piece anything together offensively. We left 9-10 guys on base. When you do that, it doesn’t amount to many good things.

“Right now, we’re in a little bit of a tailspin here, but one big hit can knock you out of that. I think were just not getting it right now. We’ve had some opportunities.We’re just not getting the big hit right now.”

Cash said he didn’t think the Rays were pressing because of the missing players.

Maybe not. But on Monday, they were finished shortly after the game started. The first four batters reached on Jake Odorizzi (error, walk, two singles) and the Mariners jumped to a 2-0 lead. Odorizzi righted himself, and he lasted seven innings with no further damage. But the Rays, despite having runners on base in every inning after the second, could score only on Logan Forsythe’s home run.

Tampa Bay has had 14 players on the disabled list for 16 stints, most in the majors. They have used 15 rookies along the way.

The Rays will try to right the ship tonight against the Mariners. Alex Colome (3-1) will pitch against J.A. Happ (3-1).

Gary Shelton is one of the most recognized and honored sportswriters in the history of the state. He has won the APSE's national columnist of the year twice and finished in the top 10 eight times. He was named the Florida Sportswriter of the Year six times. Gary joined SaintPetersBlog in the spring, helping to bring a sports presence to the website. Over his time in sports writing, Gary has covered 29 Super Bowls, 10 Olympics, Final Fours, Masters, Wimbledons and college national championships. He was there when the Bucs won a Super Bowl, when the Lightning won a Stanley Cup and when the Rays went to a World Series. He has seen Florida, FSU and Miami all win national championships, and he covered Bear Bryant, Bobby Bowden and Don Shula along the way. He and his wife Janet have four children: Eric, Kevin, K.C. and Tori. To contact, visit garysheltonsports@gmail.com.

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