ST. PETERSBURG — Most narratives about the Rays' struggles start with their battered rotation. But that's becoming old news, as the starters have actually been improving overall and the expected return this week of Alex Cobb will provide further enhancement — plus potentially make the bullpen better by lightening the load.
So as the Rays sit in last place with a 19-26 record, the focus shifts back to an old story: of whether Evan Longoria and the rest of the boys can make enough noise with their bats.
"We just have to get more offensive," manager Joe Maddon said. "We're just not hitting."
The numbers are somewhat damning by any measure: They rank ninth in the 15-team American League in runs (179, 3.98 per game) and 11th in average (.248), homers (35) and on-base plus slugging percentage (.696).
Their lack of overall output is obviously a team effort, a combination of poor and/or inconsistent individual performances to situational philosophies to strategic decisions to flawed roster construction.
But it's also that their best hitter doesn't feel like he has been giving his best effort.
Longoria labeled his season that has thus far produced a .263 average, four homers, 22 RBIs and a .710 on-base plus slugging percentage (.160 points below his career average) as inconsistent.
"The definition of inconsistency," he said.
He is working intently with hitting coach Derek Shelton on his setup at the plate and studying video from his 2009-10 standout seasons looking for differences. But more interestingly, and candidly, he says his struggles are more the product of his approach as much as anything wrong with his swing or stance.
"The success, the results, are not always going to be there, and that's not really what I'm concerned about," Longoria said. "It's more about just going up there and putting myself in the best position to get the results.
"Right now at times I'm not even giving myself a chance to have positive results, whether it's something I'm doing mechanically or just my mind-set going up there and not either being as … mentally prepared as I should be for the at-bats.
"That's one of the things that right now is the most frustrating, because every year I try and get better at being more mentally into every at-bat. I talked to you at the beginning of the year about not giving away at-bats, and that to me is more important than anything."
As he continued the self-analysis, Longoria sounded as if he were caught a bit between trying to do everything he could to help the team get straightened out and trying to not do too much so that he made it even tougher on himself.
"The most frustrating thing is that we're not winning, we really have been up and down as a team, and to pile on top of that that my at-bats have been so inconsistent," he said.
"I don't really care what happens personally as long as we win. But coincidentally if I'm playing well, the team is winning. Or if our guys who are supposed to contribute are playing well, you win.
"So at times when one or a few are not going well and the team is not winning, you put a little more pressure on yourself. You try to do more, and that becomes a bad thing and things can spiral out of control."
Maddon cautions Longoria about doing so, but it was evident over the weekend as even a return to Anaheim, where Longoria usually goes off for his hometown fans, didn't help, with a 2-for-13 series and one RBI.
"I don't want him to apply way too much pressure on himself," Maddon said. "Just go out there and play his normal game. Of course he had opportunities. Of course every good player is going to go through these kind of moments. It's just part of the game. He's going to come back with a vengeance, there's no doubt in my mind. But it was a tough series for him."
Maddon remains confident, of course, expecting that Longoria and the others will break out soon (though they are still missing injured second baseman Ben Zobrist and won't know until today about catcher Ryan Hanigan's availability). He pretty much has to if the Rays are going to turn around a season that thus far has been offensive in the wrong way.
"You can look at it so many different ways: You're going to make errors, you're going to make mistakes, you're going to make bad pitches. Sometimes you've just got to get some hits," Maddon said.
"And we haven't been able to do that. That's the part we really have to get rolling when we get back home."
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @TBTimes_Rays.