Monday, April 23, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Do the Rays have a run of consistency in them?

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — With the season heading into the sixth and final month, the Rays are still talking about putting everything together and going on the kind of extended winning run that could push them into an American League playoff spot.

"We're definitely procrastinating on that," starter Alex Cobb said.

It has been a frustrating wait, as the Rays keep sputtering through the season, going into Wednesday's late game against the Royals 3½ games and six teams away from the second wild-card spot, with just an 11.6 percent chance to make it based on fangraphs.com's computer projections. (And, as a reminder, that's just to go on the road for the one-game wild-card play-in.)

That hot streak the other contenders have had and the Rays so desperately need — not necessarily winning 10 in a row but something like eight of 10, or 10 of 12 — will remain elusive until they become more consistent.

If anything, the biggest flaw in their season — and the key paragraph in their epitaph — might prove to be inconsistency.

At times they have had the dominant starting pitching they are known for, but not for long enough. The bullpen, after the late July reconstruction, can dominate but still blows games, as happened again Tuesday. The offense has had stretches among the league's most prolific but also disappeared for several maddening weeks. The defense, ranked tops in the majors sabermetrically, can be a tremendous asset but on other nights looks sloppy and proves costly.

But rarely have they put it all together, which kind of explains how their longest winning streak during this season has been just a meager four games, and only three times at that.

And, thus, why they are where they are in the standings.

"Something has been off," manager Kevin Cash said before Wednesday's game. "And we've got to find it to where we are all together. You're not going to have every pitcher get hot. And you're certainly not going to have every hitter get hot. But you've got to have good enough balance where you can carry the load.

"Ultimately, we have to have a bunch of things go our way to have one of those stretches. If it comes in April, great. If if comes in September, even better.''

Meanwhile, Rays officials may not wait, deciding — and, crazy as it sounds, maybe even factoring in Wednesday's result as a tipping point — whether to sell off any of the pending free agents who were either claimed on waivers this week or, less likely, cleared waivers, in advance of tonight's midnight deadline for postseason eligibility.

And that, too, is reflective of their inconsistency.

Cobb is in his own category, given his importance to the team, and any deal would not only be accompanied by a white flag of surrender but also prompt a major mutiny in the clubhouse.

Beyond Cobb, first baseman/DH Lucas Duda and reliever Steve Cishek would present the two most interesting decisions for the Rays from a group that also includes relievers Tommy Hunter and Sergio Romo, first baseman Logan Morrison and outfielder Peter Bourjos.

Dealing any still would look to some degree as if the Rays were giving up, though how they are replaced and what the Rays get back could mitigate that.

Otherwise, the Rays could probably spin it with the "focusing on the present and the future" line based on whatever they get back, presumably prospects. Less placating externally but relevant would be the savings of shaving off the final month salaries.

Cishek has pitched incredibly since coming over from Seattle, unscored on in his first 14 appearances, and armed with the valuable weapon of being able to get ground balls in key situations. He has about $1 million left on his contract.

Duda has provided the power boost they sought in acquiring him from the Mets, his eight home runs the most of any Ray since joining the team July 28, but little else, hitting just .196 over 29 games. He is due an additional $1.2 million.

Though Hunter, with his dowdy 2.63 ERA through 50 games, and Morrison, with his team-most 32 homers and 75 RBIs, are headed for big paydays, their salaries are low enough to remove the savings motivation.

Assuming the front office doesn't dramatically change the mix, the Rays' chances over the final month will come back, and likely come down, to whether they can get consistent enough to make that long-awaited run.

"Why can't we?" Cobb said. "We've seen it throughout the course of the season. We've got all the talent. I think we match up with any team out there."

"There is still belief in here," Evan Longoria said. "Whether or not it happens obviously is up to us. We're definitely due to go on a run.''

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