Rays have found a bit of trouble on their journey

by Gary Shelton on May 14, 2019 · 0 comments

in general, Tampa Bay Rays

Cash discusses an umpire's decision./JEFFREY S. KING

Tuesday, 4 a.m.

In his last innocent moments, before he went from a horse trying to hold on to a cheater, this is how Maximum Security must have felt.

There was sweat and slop and noise, and this competitor was breathing down his neck, and that one was coming up on the outside, and it seemed like a great start was about to be wasted.

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Now, no one expects the Tampa Bay Rays to fudge the rules here, but the moment feels the same. A lead is slipping away. A grip on first place seems tenuous.

This time, can the leader hold off the field honorably?

It will take some doing. The Rays of the last 11 games (5-6) haven't been the same team they were before that. The Rays are 10-11 in their last 21.

Blake Snell pitches well, but he hasn't won. The catching is a mess. The hitting comes and goes. Brandon Lowe can't make contact. Kevin Kiermaier is struggling. Tyler Glasnow is hurt. The lead, 5 1/2 games on April 18, is down to a half-game. The immediate schedule has teeth.

The Yankees had a chance to tie for the lead in the AL East Monday night but were postponed. The Red Sox seem to have figured out their problems, and they're within three games of the Rays.

Hey, if you want to be optimistic, you can be. It's a long season, and the Rays have shown they're a good team. Austin Meadows is one of the great stories of baseball, and Yandy Diaz might be better. Avi Garcia has been solid.

But for goodness sakes, doesn't it feel like the Rays need to win a game?

Oh, there have been problems. Snell has been hurt and Joey Wendle has been hurt twice and Matt Duffy has been hurt constantly. The team is 1-7 in one-run games, and they're 0-4 in extra innings. Whenever a runner gets into scoring position, the Rays' bats turn to oatmeal. But the pitching has been so good, and team has won most of its series, so you haven't noticed.

Now that they're in a race, you start to notice. Tommy Pham is hitting .158 over his last five games, and you notice. Kiermaier is down to .224, and you notice. Lowe has 10 strikeouts in his last three games, and you notice. Players make base-running gaffes, and you notice. Daniel Robertson has a pitcher's batting average, and you notice.

Granted, most of us figured the Rays would finish behind the Yankees and Red Sox and their bloated budgets before the season. But the Yankees have been crippled and the Red Sox pitchers have been mortal, or less. It feels as if now is the time for the Rays to make things interesting.

It'll be tough. After this week's series with the Marlins, the Rays have upcoming series against the Yankees, Dodgers, Indians, Blue Jays, Twins, Tigers are Red Sox. Only the Blue Jays (16) and the Tigers (18) have fewer than 20 wins.

The Glasnow injury also hurts. Granted, it could have been worse, but he was on his way to a breakthrough season.

Is there a reason for hope? Certainly, there is. The hitting fades in and out, but it's better than I thought it would be (because of Meadows, Diaz and Garcia). The bullpen has been good (Jose Alvarado, Diego Castillo and Emilio Pagan are 11-12 in save opportunities). The starting pitching gives you a chance most days. Yonny Chirinos and Jalen Beeks will lessen how much Glasnow is missed.

Are they better than you'd think? Are they better than you'd hope?

Now, we find out.



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