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John Romano: Time for Tampa Bay Rays to dress up for success

The Rays pose in their black Ring of Fire attire before leaving Tropicana Field for Toronto to begin a key seven-game road trip.

Photo courtesy of Tampa Bay Rays

The Rays pose in their black Ring of Fire attire before leaving Tropicana Field for Toronto to begin a key seven-game road trip.

ST. PETERSBURG — The bus was parked outside, and the charter was waiting at the airport. Inside Tropicana Field following a 4-0 loss Sunday, the Rays had one more chore before heading out the doors for a seven-game road trip.

With the players and staff dressed in black from head to toe, they gathered in front of the dugout for a group picture. The attire was manager Joe Maddon's brainstorm, a lighthearted attempt to loosen things up before a big trip. The idea was to dress like Johnny Cash.

Up in the press box, someone had an alternative plan:

Maybe they should dress like playoff contenders.

It's getting to be that time. Doubts are increasing, and pressure is building. Ideas that are amusing when a team is winning can seem forced when things aren't going so well.

In the end, Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein will not determine whether the Rays stay in the wild-card race. That will be up to James Shields and Matt Garza. And dye jobs will not be as important as hitters doing their jobs.

The simple truth is the Rays have been a horrible road team. And there is no legitimate explanation or excuse for it.

It's not as if this team was constructed specifically for Tropicana Field. And it's not as if this is an inexperienced team that has never won before on the road. A handful of younger guys might enjoy the nightlife on the road, but no one has directly suggested that the problems outside of Tampa Bay are related to not being prepared on the road.

"We're professionals," first baseman Carlos Pena said. "We have a lot of checks and balances. We take care of our own. We look after each other. We would not allow that to be a problem.

"It's hard to put a finger on it. It's hard to explain why. But we honestly can't stand it. We know we have to be better on the road. We know we have to be better in day games."

The Rays are going to have to be better in a hurry. Beginning with tonight's game in Toronto, the Rays have more games on the road (21) than at home (18) in the season's final six weeks. And they cannot expect to make up ground on the Rangers and Red Sox if every successful home stand is negated by a weak effort on the road.

Because it's been that way much of the season. It happened in May with a 5-3 home stand that gave way to a 2-5 road trip. It happened a month later with a 5-1 home stand followed by a 2-4 road trip. It happened again recently with a 6-3 home stand that led to a 1-5 road trip.

So if you're looking for a reason why the Rays have not put together a sustained run toward the top of the standings, this is a pretty good place to start. It's hard to maintain momentum when your game disappears at the first sight of a pilot's uniform.

The Rays were not a great road team last season, but they were good enough. They went 40-41 away from home and rode a spectacular .704 winning percentage at Tropicana Field to the American League East title. The winning percentage at home is very good again (.667), but the Rays have gone 25-35 outside of Tampa Bay.

It was right around this time last season when the Rays finally grew up on the road. At that point, they were 23-28 away from home and facing a 10-game trip with a three-game lead in the division. Going from Seattle to Oakland to Texas, they went 7-3 and increased their lead on the Red Sox.

"We had a great road trip last August that proved very important, and I think this team is very capable of doing just that," executive vice president Andrew Friedman said. "I think everyone appreciates how important the next 39 games are, and how we do on the road will go a long way towards determining our fate."

If you're looking for specifics, you might want to focus on the starting rotation. Yes, the offense has been less potent on the road. Pena, Pat Burrell and B.J. Upton in particular have struggled. But the rotation has created the most problems.

Shields' ERA is a full run higher on the road. So is Garza's. Jeff Niemann's ERA goes up almost two runs, and David Price's is more than five runs higher. If those guys don't start pitching up to their ability on the road, this season could be on life support by the time the Rays return to St. Petersburg on Sept. 1.

"We know we can win on the road," Maddon said. "We know we can win in tough venues. We've done it; we've done it in the recent past. We know all that. We just have to make fewer mistakes. We have to make that big pitch and probably play a more fundamentally sound game. I know we're capable."

A short time later, a group of men dressed in black walked out of Tropicana Field late Sunday afternoon.

You had to wonder if they were heading to their own funeral.

John Romano can be reached at romano@sptimes.com.

ST. PETERSBURG — The bus was parked outside, and the charter was waiting at the airport. Inside Tropicana Field following a 4-0 loss Sunday, the Rays had one more chore before heading out the doors for a seven-game road trip.

With the players and staff dressed in black from head to toe, they gathered in front of the dugout for a group picture. The attire was manager Joe Maddon's brainstorm, a lighthearted attempt to loosen things up before a big trip. The idea was to dress like Johnny Cash.

Up in the press box, someone had an alternative plan:

Maybe they should dress up like playoff contenders.

It's getting to be that time. Doubts are increasing, and pressure is building. Ideas that are amusing when a team is winning can seem forced when things aren't going so well.

In the end, Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein will not determine whether the Rays stay in the wild-card race. That will be up to James Shields and Matt Garza. And dye jobs will not be as important as hitters doing their jobs.

The simple truth is the Rays have been a horrible road team. And there is no legitimate explanation or excuse for it.

It's not as if this team was constructed specifically for Tropicana Field. And it's not as if this is an inexperienced team that has never won before on the road. A handful of younger guys might enjoy the nightlife on the road, but no one has directly suggested that the problems outside of Tampa Bay are related to not being prepared.

"We're professionals," first baseman Carlos Peña said. "We have a lot of checks and balances. We take care of our own. We look after each other. We would not allow that to be a problem.

"It's hard to put a finger on it. It's hard to explain why. But we honestly can't stand it. We know we have to be better on the road. We know we have to be better in day games."

The Rays are going to have to be better in a hurry. Beginning with tonight's game in Toronto, the Rays have more games on the road (21) than at home (18) in the season's final six weeks. And they cannot expect to make up ground on the Rangers and Red Sox if every successful home stand is negated by a weak effort on the road.

Because it's been that way much of the season. It happened in May with a 5-3 homestand that gave way to a 2-5 road trip. It happened a month later with a 5-1 homestand followed by a 2-4 road trip. It happened again recently with a 6-3 homestand that led to a 1-5 road trip.

So if you're looking for a reason why the Rays have not put together a sustained run toward the top of the standings, this is a pretty good place to start. It's hard to maintain momentum when your game disappears at the first sight of a pilot's uniform.

The Rays were not a great road team last season, but they were good enough. They went 40-41 away from home and rode a spectacular .704 winning percentage at Tropicana Field to the American League East title. The winning percentage at home is very good again (.667), but the Rays have gone 25-35 outside of Tampa Bay.

It was right around this time last season when the Rays finally grew up on the road. At that point, they were 23-28 away from home and facing a 10-game trip with a three-game lead in the division. Going from Seattle to Oakland to Texas, they went 7-3 and increased their lead on the Red Sox.

"We had a great road trip last August that proved very important, and I think this team is very capable of doing just that," executive vice president Andrew Friedman said. "I think everyone appreciates how important the next 39 games are, and how we do on the road will go a long way towards determining our fate."

If you're looking for specifics, you might want to focus on the starting rotation. Yes, the offense has been less potent on the road. Peña, Pat Burrell and B.J. Upton in particular have struggled. But the rotation has created the most problems.

Shields' ERA is a full run higher on the road. So is Garza's. Jeff Niemann's ERA goes up almost two runs, and David Price's is more than five runs higher. If those guys don't start pitching up to their ability on the road, this season could be on life support by the time the Rays return to St. Petersburg on Sept. 1.

"We know we can win on the road," Maddon said. "We know we can win in tough venues. We've done it; we've done it in the recent past. We know all that.

"We just have to make fewer mistakes. We have to make that big pitch and probably play a more fundamentally sound game. I know we're capable."

A short time later, a group of men dressed in black walked out of Tropicana Field late Sunday afternoon.

You had to wonder if they were heading to their own funeral.

Homesick blues

Tampa Bay's pitching rotation has spun out of control in road games this season. Here is the breakdown of starters' statistics at home and on the road.

PitcherHome (w-L, ERA)Away (W-L, ERA)

James Shields4-63.353-44.46

Scott Kazmir5-36.893-45.10

Matt Garza4-43.263-44.43

David Price6-22.960-48.07

Jeff Niemann5-22.676-34.42

Andy Sonnanstine5-04.541-78.22

Totals29-173.8416-265.39

John Romano: Time for Tampa Bay Rays to dress up for success 08/23/09 [Last modified: Sunday, August 23, 2009 11:59pm]

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