The Rays have been in a practical freefall since mid-July.
They blew two-run leads in each of the three games they lost at the hands of the Texas Rangers. They suffered a pair of crippling walk-off defeats at the hands of the New York Yankees. They were swept by the division-leading Boston Red Sox, and after dropping three of four against the Cleveland Indians, the Rays find themselves back under .500 for the first time since the beginning of June.
It should be time to be pressing the panic button...incessantly. But I’m strangely calm.
I’m calm because I’ve watched a team that had hit so well all season long fall into the doldrums of an awful dry spell. Corey Dickerson, who up until a week or so before the All-Star break was hitting around the .330 mark, has hit under .200 during this stretch. So has Adeiny Hechaverria, Brad Miller and Wilson Ramos. Some of the other big boppers are just barely over .200: Logan Morrison is at .205, Steven Souza Jr and Lucas Duda are both at .217 (Duda’s last ten days with the Mets are included). And while some naysayers will point out that this is hitters just regressing toward their means, the other said of the coin also holds true. Dickerson won’t hit .198 for the rest of the year. Morrison, Souza, Duda, and even Ramos and Miller are bound to snap back from this slump.
I’m also calm because of the pitching we’ve seen in the last week-plus from the team.
This is the sort of pitching Rays fans you have been clamoring for all year long. You wanted to see the starters go deeper into games, and while they haven’t had many opportunities at going beyond six or seven innings, I think the best sign is that so many of them have been consistenly getting 18 outs in a game, allowing the revamped bullpen to slot into roles they’re comfortable in. Tommy Hunter has settled into the role in front of Alex Colome, working the eighth inning. Tampa Bay also brought in Dann Jennings to handle left-handed hitters. Steve Cishek and his submaring delivery. Oh, and don’t forget Sergio Romo with his frisbee slider that right-handers can’t hit, along with his cheerful clubhouse demeanor and three World Series rings. And with how well youngsters Jake Faria and Austin Pruitt have shown themselves to be, and Blake Snell also displaying flashing of the lefty that dazzled his way from Port Charlotte to Durham in 2015 and into the big-league rotation the following season, you should be feeling optimistic that the pitching shouldn't regress.
And finally, I’m calm because of what we’ve seen from the other teams chasing a postseason berth alongside the Rays.
On July 31, when the Rays finished making their deals for Romo, Jennings, Cishek, and Duda, they were 54-53, and two games removed from the final wild card berth. Going into play Monday, Tampa Bay was 59-60 and found themselves just two and a half games off the pace for the same berth. So for all the poor hitting and losing results we saw from the 2-7 homestand the Rays just finished, they lost only ONE HALF GAME.
And on top of that, Tampa Bay still finds themselves with the opportunity to be in the driver’s seat for that berth, as they still have series to play against almost every team either in front of them or within a game of them, with the exception of the Los Angeles Angels. Tampa Bay will play the Minnesota Twins and Seattle Mariners at the Trop, the Kansas City Royals on the road, and the Yankees and Baltimore Orioles both at home and on the road.
So I hope you didn’t eject from this playoff race, because I have a feeling this will be a fun one lasting all the way to the final days of the regular season.