The Rays begin an important nine-game, three-city road trip tonight with the Orioles that also includes games with the Angels and the A's, three teams in the mix of Wild Card contenders.
With the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline rapidly approaching, it's possible the group of Rays that left Monday night for Baltimore will not be the same group that returns in early August.
Executive VP of baseball operations Andrew Friedman could go outside the organization and add players for the playoff push, stand pat with what he has and hope OF Sam Fuld (right wrist surgery) and 3B Evan Longoria (left hamstring) will return from the disabled list and be productive enough for the Rays to return to the postseason, or trade some of the pricier players and look ahead to 2013.
Teams scouted RHP James Shields and RHP Jeremy Hellickson during the weekend and rumors involving Shields, RHP Wade Davis, RHP Alex Cobb and 2B/RF Ben Zobrist have already surfaced. Expect CF B.J. Upton's name to pop up, too, since it normally does this time of year.
The Rays had hoped to know more about Longoria's timetable for a return. With that still in question, Friedman might add a third baseman to his search that already includes a catcher and a shortstop.
But a tough start to this trip could force Friedman to go in the other direction, which would not be a popular move in the clubhouse.
"I think we want to try to be additive about the whole thing because we have a solid chance to do this," manager Joe Maddon said.
Said 1B Carlos Peña, "I don't want to see this team dismantled. … I want to give this a shot."
Big Game Jeremy
Hellickson, who opened the second half of the season when he faced the Red Sox in the first game of the 10-game homestand, said that was an important outing because he wanted to help the team get off to a good start during an important stretch of the scheduled.
He said he views tonight's start in Baltimore just the same.
"This road trip we're going to be playing teams who are right there with us, so it's a big trip for us," he said. "A lot of stuff can happen. We're not really worried about that. We have to take care of business."
Big Bat Keppinger
The Rays signed INF Jeff Keppinger in the offseason because of his success against left-handed pitchers, and he has not disappointed.
Keppinger is batting .446 vs. lefties this season. That's the second-best average in the majors against lefties behind Pittsburgh's Andrew McCutchen, who is batting .459.
The club record for average against left-handers is .379 by Jason Bartlett in 2008.
Keppinger is .325 overall, making him the only Ray with a batting average above .300.
Fuld is expected to be activated today. … The Rays offense has struck out at least 10 times in 30 games this season, second to the Orioles, who have done it 33 times … The Rays are 17-6 when they record at least 10 hits, but those 23 games are tied with the A's for the fewest in the majors.