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Martin Fennelly Columns

Rays' playoff chances depend on all parts clicking

Published:   |   Updated: March 20, 2013 at 01:52 PM

And away we go with the second half.

You have to know that while they can't admit it, Tampa Bay Rays management must be tickled pink to be in the playoff race at eight games over .500 on a sub-.500 payroll.

You have to know the Rays, after letting their seven highest-paid players walk out the door, are building toward a season to be named later.

Not that they can come out and say that, especially with stadium consensus-building under construction.

But the reality is that they're six games behind Boston in the American League East as the Red Sox hit town for three games Friday night and five games behind the New York Yankees, who come to Tropicana Field for four games Monday.

These might be the seven crucial games of this season.

The Rays have yet to play truly well against winning teams or at home, two things they managed quite well in 2008 and 2010, when they crashed the postseason.

Boy, they could use Carl Crawford about now, couldn't they?

Yes, it's neither here nor there, but the lack of bats might be about to kill this deal.

What this season tells you is what we've known all along, namely that the Red Sox and the Yankees, by virtue of their huge payrolls, enjoy that special sort of wiggle room the Rays will never have.

Think about it. Think about it in terms of former Rays, too.

Crawford began beyond slowly with Boston and is still recovering from an injury - and Boston is 20 games over .500, the best record in the American League.

Rafael Soriano, also injured, has done nothing with the Yankees. He's an $11 million set-up man and hasn't set up a thing - and the Yankees are 18 games over .500 and sure to make a move or two before the trade deadline.

The Rays, everything they need has to click. They need the pitching every night, they need the defense every night, they need to run and create every night.

They haven't quite gotten that.

There have been some great seasons from some people. James Shields, Matt Joyce, Johnny Damon and Kyle Farnsworth come to mind. Ben Zobrist has been solid.

B.J. Upton leads the team in home runs and RBIs at the All-Star break, and that can't be a bad thing. In fact, it might be a tradable thing.

But Evan Longoria hasn't been what he was his first three big-league seasons.

And David Price hasn't been close to his 2010.

The bullpen, built on the fly, hasn't even been that bad, which is probably why the Rays are hanging in.

But it's clear there are too many outs in this lineup, beginning with shortstop and catcher.

Reid Brignac hasn't cut it at the plate, and Sean Rodriguez hasn't been much better.

Kelly Shoppach has been a disaster.

There's just not enough life in this lineup to believe the Rays will stay in this race.

Mind you, we probably thought that last season and maybe in 2008, the playoff seasons. And this team has an amazing ability to sit up just when you think it's going to lie down.

Well, here come the Red Sox and the Yankees, seven games at the Trop that just might set the tone for the rest of the season.

Away we go.

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