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Thursday, Jul 24, 2014
Martin Fennelly Columns

Fennelly: At 16-22, Rays are digging an early grave

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— Joe Maddon and his last-place Rays flew to Seattle on Sunday night, off on another one of their fabulous theme trips, this one with a Woodstock flavor to honor Woodstock headliner Jimi Hendrix, Seattle born and buried. That reminds us:

Hey, Joe, where you goin’ with that team in your hands?

The Rays are in trouble, so much of it that de facto team captain Evan Longoria looked stressed and more than a little silly in that psychedelic headband as he prepared to discuss his club’s mind-blowing spiral.

“This would be more fun if we’d won,” Longoria said.

He wasn’t even coming off a bad trip. No, the Rays went bad at the Trop, losing five home games in six days that were anything but peace and music, Sunday’s 6-5 loss to the Indians included. It was the same tune all week: one pitch away, one hit away, tying run up in the ninth. No matter. They’re 16-22, five and a half back of first-place Baltimore.

Far out.

“It’s not time to get panicky, down or anything like that,” Maddon said. The song playing in Country Joe’s head: The 2011 Rays began the season 0-6 and trailed a playoff spot by nine games to start September, only to go 162 on us. “Just keep playing the game hard and it comes back to you. If you choose not to do that, then it does go away.”

A 1-5 homestand is still no way to build a baseball season, or a baseball stadium, for that matter.

The Rays are digging themselves a grave. It would be deeper if anyone in the AL East bothered to go on a righteous winning streak.

“We’re getting lucky with the teams in the division right now not playing as well as they can play also, so we’re able to kind of hang around,” Longoria said. “But that’s not going to happen for very long. We’ve got to figure it out quick.”

This seven-game West Coast swing does not exactly begin with a get-well card: Tonight, the Rays face King Felix Hernandez, making his first start against the Rays since throwing a perfect game against them in 2012. Programming note: Tonight’s game will not be televised in Tampa Bay. Lucky us.

It’s not just that few of the Rays’ healthy starting pitchers can throw into the sixth inning anymore. Sunday, Chris Archer continued to be a major disappointment, getting one batter into the sixth — a two-strike home run. Archer is 0-1 with a 7.71 ERA over his past three starts.

What does it say when Erik Bedard is becoming a point of light for your pitching staff? When Ben Zobrist has nine RBIs all season? When Longo and Wil Myers have just eight homers between them? When Logan Forsythe is even on your team? Or that the bullpen, when not getting eaten alive, is being worn to a nub? That kind of thing comes back and bites teams in August and September. Just you watch.

Or don’t watch. Not only are the Rays bad right now, they’re not any fun, which is unusual for them. Part of the problem: their unbearably endless games. Sunday’s nine innings took 3 hours, 48 minutes. The Rays’ last 12 games have averaged 3:45. What, is Scorsese directing? The whole thing would give Abner Doubleday the dry heaves.

It’s simply a matter of time before someone in the East gets hot. And if the Rays don’t join them, Eat Last will turn into Trade Price.

Hey, Joe, where you going with that team in your hands?

“If we weren’t playing to the last out, I would be concerned,” Maddon said.

They’re not exactly making music at the moment.

Dig?

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