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Sunday, Sep 21, 2014
Martin Fennelly Columns

Fennelly: Perhaps Rays due for season like this

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Published:   |   Updated: May 30, 2014 at 05:55 AM

Lose four, win four, lose three.

Is that going to be this Rays season?

Joe Maddon’s mutts were swept out of Toronto on Wednesday and find themselves 23-31, nine games back of the piping-hot first-place Blue Jays. Toronto can’t keep this up, right?

Meanwhile, I’m starting to think the Rays could keep this up all year. At the moment, this season just oozes 84-78.

The Rays left last place by sweeping the Red Sox last weekend at the Trop, taking no prisoners, Yunel Escobar taking third base, leading to the usual Rays-Sox fracas. Now they’re in Boston for three, tables turned — Sox hot, Rays not. Who knows what will happen at Fenway Park. The Rays’ backs are against the wall even without the Green Monster.

They swing the bats like crazy the first two games against Toronto — and the pitching gets mashed. Wednesday, Chris Archer summons up a good effort, and the hitting disappears, with the defense no help at all, though maybe it’s a good sign that Rays sophomore Wil Myers took time out from his busy slumping to hit a home run outside of Yankee Stadium.

But it ended with Juan Carlos Oviedo’s throwing error in the ninth, after he fielded a bunt and heaved it from his knees, past first. That’s the Rays right now: on their knees. They might as well be praying, or begging.

The injuries have been numerous and wrenching. This team entered the season without one of its five projected starting pitchers (Jeremy Hellickson) then lost another for the season (Matt Moore) and its best one for a sizable stretch (Alex Cobb). Now the Rays are waiting on Ben Zobrist’s return, probably tonight, and Ryan Hanigan’s return, eventually. It’s a long list of misery.

They’ll get hot at one point. Every team gets hot for a while in a baseball season. The Rays have 18 home games in June. Last season, it took a torrid July. The Rays went 21-5 that month to propel their playoff chase.

But we’re starting to wonder if it’ll be over before it begins. The hole is nine games deep.

The starting pitchers are struggling to go six innings (the team is 5-25 when they don’t). Sean Rodriguez leads the Rays in homers with six. Myers is 4 for his last 38. Desmond Jennings is at .239 and doing nothing much. And it’s never good when your set-up man (Joel Peralta) has a 5.09 ERA and your closer (Grant Balfour) checks in at 5.49.

Maybe the Rays were due for a season like this, a stream of injuries to their pitchers, bad breaks, bad baseball. But no one pictured the Rays and Red Sox jostling in the AL East basement, least of all the Rays and Red Sox.

But here they are, with Boston just in front of Tampa Bay as they tangle tonight at Fenway. Let’s can the AL Beast talk for a while. There is no Beast to be found in Boston this evening, simply two wounded animals looking for a way out.

Maybe if Evan Longoria starts hitting on the road (.200, one homer, nine RBIs this year) and Zobrist returns and does more than he did before he was injured and Myers gets up to speed. Maybe if they’re all going at once …

And maybe David Price creeps over .500 and stays there, beginning tonight at Fenway, where he is 6-1 with a 1.88 ERA — at least in the regular season. Price hasn’t pitched in Boston since he got knocked around in last year’s ALDS, followed by his bratty rant about cheap Boston wall-ball hits and David Ortiz standing to watch his homer off Price.

This is no time to stand around, or talk, or complain. The hole is nine games deep.

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