Musings on the Rays

Toronto is an American League East division foe, and the Jays know that dropping three to the Rays will be a major setback, and could effectively end their season. And in the next two games, the Rays face Toronto’s two top starters: A.J. Burnett and Roy Halladay.

With Boston one game behind and New York three down, the Rays simply cannot afford to lose three straight to Toronto. But the way they’ve been playing, that looks very possible. The Rays’ coaching staff, players and announcers all say that these doldrums can’t continue, that the hitters are too good and are due to get hot, but we’ve seen no evidence of it yet.

A few reasons for fans to feel queasy:

• The Rays have never, ever been close to the position of holding on to first place this far into the season. Try as they might to play day-to-day, the notion of the playoffs, of being in an actual pennant race, has to be creeping into their minds.

And yet — there are 58 games left. Crawford, Upton and several other players have never played meaningful games in late July, and it’s only natural they should press. (This is all Longoria has known, so, despite being a rookie, he seems the most relaxed.)

• The Rays have played a lot of close games, and while that makes for good drama and viewing, it may contribute to the sense of mental fatigue that surrounds the team.

• Baseball pundits have been bandying about whether Tampa Bay needs to make a trade before the Thursday deadline. I’m not enough of an expert to have a firm opinion on this, but I definitely don't think the team should mortgage the future for a short-term fix. Most of the talk has been about adding a right-handed bat to effectively take over Johnny Gomes’ role as well as a late-inning relief pitcher.

But I also see a budding problem with the starting pitching (more so than the bullpen). Shields and Kazmir seem to have found their groove (although not yet on the road), and I think Garza has about come of age. But Andy Sonnanstine just looks like the kind of pitcher that hitters tend to figure out; he was very little margin for error. And I’m not convinced that Edwin Jackson has his head on straight. Two shaky starters in a five-man rotation can be a perilous situation for a contender. I hope I’m wrong about those two guys. It's nigh impossible to land a quality starting pitcher at this juncture.

Not every series can be pivotal, but the three-gamer starting tonight in Toronto sure feels that way.

The Rays just split four games with the Royals in K.C. — not a disaster, but not the tonic the St. Petersburg team needed. The major problems persist, chief among them the offense. While the Rays are no longer in a collective hitting slump — Evan Longoria and Carlos Pena could even be considered hot — they can’t seem to come together at the plate.

Carl Crawford and B.J. Upton continue to underachieve, and for too long the Rays have not been able to spark that rally, that big inning. They don’t knock in runs at key times. They strand baserunners like they have leprosy.

About The Author

Eric Snider

Eric Snider is the dean of Bay area music critics. He started in the early 1980s as one of the founding members of Music magazine, a free bi-monthly. He was the pop music critic for the then-St. Petersburg Times from ‘87-’93. Snider was the music critic, arts editor and senior editor of Weekly Planet/Creative...
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