ST. PETERSBURG — Is this any way to run a playoff chase?
To play so badly at home that you actually want to leave town?
What a putrid performance by the Rays.
They departed the 2-7 Homestand of Shame for Toronto on Sunday night. They had their offense in a carry-on container, it being less than 3.4 fluid ounces.
They left town 59-60, under .500 for the first time in more than two months.
That's the Rays' real home.
Their playoff chances should be in shambles, only this dreary, icky-smelling American League wild-card race and its dreary mathematics currently makes few allowances for shambles. There's no getting knocked out in this dodge ball game.
But this was the 17-game stretch the Rays had talked about, the one against contenders and division leaders. The one that would tell us a lot about this team when it was done.
And it did.
"We found out that we have to play better," Rays manager Kevin Cash said. "We were hoping to find out a little more. We have to move past it quickly, because every game is a pivotal swing game and we have to take advantage of going and playing good baseball. But to answer your question, no, we needed to play better over that stretch and we did not. It's doesn't burn or kill us, but we definitely have to make up for it now."
Nothing burns or dies in the American League wild-card race.
What did we learn?
They're not good enough.
They're not a playoff team.
Playoff teams don't go 6-11 in a stretch like this. They don't come home and embarrass themselves, getting shut out five times in nine games. They don't go and lose seven of nine: two to the Brewers, two to the Red Sox then three of four to the Indians, who took their third in a row Sunday, 4-3, despite Steven Souza Jr.
Souzaphone hit a two-run sixth-inning homer off Cleveland ace Corey Kluber to tie at 3, then threw a tracer to the plate to nail a runner in the top of the following inning. He even walked and stole a base to become the tying run at second in the bottom of the ninth, but Adeiny Hechavarria swung and missed to leave The Mighty Souz stranded. His back wasn't big enough to carry his club.
It's going to take more backs, and bats, in that limping lineup.
Consider that Rays pitchers have the best ERA in baseball in August — and this team is 5-7 this month.
The strange part is that the Rays stumbled against the Yankees in New York, then rallied in Houston, taking three of four from the team with the best record in the league.
Then they came back to Tampa Bay and made The Big Messy. There's usually nothing like home cooking, unless your bats are made of feta. The Rays scored 11 runs in the nine-game homestand — 11. Who needs an MLS team, Tampa Bay, with the Rays producing shutouts at this rate?
What did we learn?
The Rays are an average team in an average league.
Is that really all that surprising?
That's what 17 games told us. That's what this homestand said.
It seems like just last Tuesday (because it was), before the Rays lost five of six, that they were excited about playing the first-place Red Sox and first-place Indians.
"This is the time that we need to go," Evan Longoria said.
Going once, going twice …
Contact Martin Fennelly at [email protected] or (813) 731-8029. Follow @mjfennelly.