ST. PETERSBURG — The quote of the year, and perhaps the epitaph to this season, came from manager Joe Maddon moments after the Rays’ 12-5 loss in Seattle on a Monday in mid-May.
The Mariners jumped on Cesar Ramos for three runs in the first inning and five in the second and the West Coast road trip began with a convincing thud.
“We got ambushed,” Maddon said. “We sashayed into the canyon, and they were firing from both sides.”
Not even Clint Eastwood as the Pale Rider could save them.
Tampa Bay hasn’t seen this kind of losing from the local nine since the days of the Devil Rays. It’s as if every team took aim at a team that was fixing on winning it all.
“You can kind of break it up into different tranches. Unfortunately, the biggest one is the one where we didn’t play nearly as well as we expected,” vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said. “It’s kind of an imperfect storm of events on a number of fronts. So on one hand, it happened, it’s real, and we have to dig ourselves out from it. And on the other, we remain supremely confident in the group of guys that we have.”
Added Maddon, “Nothing was working. Nothing could really carry you through a tough moment. Nobody got hot. Pitching-wise, nobody was really hot. Bullpen, some guys were good, some guys not so good. Nothing was consistent.”
“If I had to sum it up in one word, in one word I would say inconsistent,” Sean Rodriguez said. “Obviously we had real high expectations. Definitely we weren’t expecting to bunch up everything in the way it bunched up, meaning lose all those games all together.”
The word most often heard in the Rays clubhouse this season is “frustrating.”
And with each loss, with each runner left in scoring position, with each missed opportunity to get back in the playoff hunt, the frustration grows to what? A 12 on a scale of 1 to 10?
“I don’t know how to put a number on it, but I’d say it’s been the worst-case scenario,” Alex Cobb said.
And the worst-case scenario, most agreed back in March, was the only way David Price would get traded during the season.
What is maddening inside the clubhouse is how it got to this point. Yes, Matt Moore is out for the season after having elbow surgery, Cobb missed a good chunk of the first half with an oblique injury and Jeremy Hellickson just returned from offseason elbow surgery. Injuries like that are hard on a team that’s built on starting pitching.
Wil Myers hasn’t played since May 30 and David DeJesus has been out since June 19. But the injuries to those two outfielders created opportunities for Brandon Guyer and Kevin Kiermaier.
Still, with few exceptions, it’s been a group of under-performing players from nearly one end of the clubhouse to the other.
“We could sit here and blame it on injuries and misfortune, but through the course of 162 games every team deals with something,” Cobb said. “We didn’t do a good enough job of stepping up during certain stretches when we were struggling and getting out of the funk earlier, and that’s on all sides of it. Offense, defense and pitching has not clicked at the same time where we can make up some ground on people. It never happened. We’d be good for one week then bad for two. It’s like one step forward, two steps back, especially now.”
And those steps back will change the course of the second half, from chasing a playoff spot to playing for pride, to watching Price and some others lead the Rays into October to, perhaps, watching Price and some others do that in different jerseys.
“It’s been a down first half, absolutely,” Cobb said. “With glimpses of our potential, which has been the most frustrating part just because of the expectations and the chances we were given this year by having David (Price) in this locker room and getting guys like (James) Loney back and some key contributors that on paper would look like we’re an extreme World Series threat, and it just hasn’t gone according to plan.”