Rays morning after: There (really) are still reasons to be optimistic
There are plenty of reasons to be pessimistic about the Rays' chances to get out of their extended skid and make the playoffs, including veteran 3B Evan Longoria's acknowledgement after Thursday's game that the pressures of the race may be getting to them.
But there - really - are still some reasons to be optimistic, as they are 60-63 and have 39 games left and are only three games, though five teams, from a wild-card spot.
Here are three:
* CF Kevin Kiermaier is coming back, likely as soon as tonight. Granted Kiermaier wasn't exactly tearing it up before fracturing his right hip in early June, hitting .258 with 7 homers, 20 RBIs and a .737 OPS. But he has the ability to be a catalyst with his combination of speed and power on offense, he will presumably be hungry and eager to help after watching for more than two months, he can provide momentum with his usual highlight reel defense and, most importantly, he will better than replacement Mallex Smith, who over his last dozen games is hitting .206 with an OPS of under .500.
* The changes to the lineup should help. Moving Longoria into the No. 2 spot - where several teams put their best hitter, such as the Blue Jays with Josh Donaldson and the Cubs with Kris Bryant - should help since he will get more protection, and putting Steven Souza cleanup between lefties Lucas Duda and Logan Morrison should create for tricky decision-making by managers late in game with they get into their bullpens. Of course, for this to work, the Rays need new leadoff man Brad Miller to come through with some hits and not just walks.
* They really can't be this bad for too much longer. As frustrating as it has been to watch the Rays repeatedly strand runners and waste opportunities - a hard-to-believe .105 average (8-for-76) with runners in scoring position over 13 games - there is some encouragement to be found in the number of chances they have created. "We have guys that have driven the ball well with guys on base, that have picked up up with runners in scoring position opportunities that have gone quiet of late,'' manager Kevin Cash said. "We know we have guys that are capable of doing it. .. And the reason we feel good is that they have track records of doing it.''