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Offense lacking in Tampa Bay Rays' 5-4 loss to New York Yankees

Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter avoids Casey Kotchman’s slide at second and completes a double play on a B.J. Upton ground ball during the first inning.

JAMES BORCHUCK | Times

Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter avoids Casey Kotchman’s slide at second and completes a double play on a B.J. Upton ground ball during the first inning.

ST. PETERSBURG

A bunt single. A stolen base. An error and a fielder's choice, and a runner crosses the plate without the ball ever reaching the outfield.

This is how an underdog survives.

A walk, and another stolen base. A groundout to the right side, a hitter beating out an infield single, and another run scores without the ball leaving the infield.

This is how a scrappy team excels.

The problem is the team playing small ball Monday night was the one that leads the American League in home runs. And the team that manufactured runs the old-fashioned way was the one that has the $207 million payroll.

In other words, the Yankees beat the Rays at what is supposedly their own game. And that's not an encouraging sign for Tampa Bay going forward.

In their past six games, the Rays have lost five times to the payroll-enhancing big boys in New York and Boston. And hardly any of the losses have been knockouts.

The Rays have lost 5-4, 1-0, 1-0 and 5-4 in that span. For all the talk of the Yankees buying themselves the best bats in the game, they still manage to play smart baseball when the situation calls for it, including the tying run scoring when a double play was broken up Monday night.

"One of the things Joe (Maddon) talked about to start the second half was exactly that," leftfielder Sam Fuld said. "We need to do a better job of playing small ball and doing the little things because we can't rely on hitting a three-run homer.

"We can't do that, and we're not going to beat teams like that. We have to win games 3-2 on most nights if we're going to have a chance."

It should come as no surprise that Tampa Bay is in the middle of the pack in the American League in most offensive categories. It is simply the way the team is constructed.

The team has invested much of its resources in starting pitching and defense because that's the best way to make up the payroll difference with Boston and New York.

This is why the bottom third of the batting order is almost comically inept on most nights. Using a combination of on-base percentage and slugging percentage as a guide, the Rays are 11th, 11th and 14th in the AL in production in the seventh, eighth and ninth spots.

So, yes, the idea that Tampa Bay had the most futile five-hour offensive performance in major-league history Sunday night — three singles and one walk in 16 innings against the Red Sox was the worst showing of a game of that length in the past century or so — is only mildly disturbing.

The bigger issue is the Rays do not compensate for their shortcomings with any kind of savvy at the plate or on the bases.

They strike out far too much, they walk too infrequently, and they get thrown out stealing bases more than any team in the AL. Too many innings end after a half-dozen pitches, and too many scoring opportunities disappear needlessly.

"I did make a plea recently with them to do a better job with two strikes. That was my biggest concern that we have a better two-strike approach or plan, which is more of a small-ball methodology," Maddon said. "If you're not going to hit for a high average, at least move the ball. If you're not going to drive in points or drive the ball out of the ballpark, at least move the ball.

"You can't do anything positive with a strikeout."

In case you're wondering, the Rays struck out nine times Monday. The night before was 13. The night before that it was 10.

And, please, do not whine about the hitting coach. These are major-league players. If they can't figure out how to come to the plate with a game plan at this point, chances are they're never going to learn.

"Offensively we've talked about it. That's where we need to pick it up," Evan Longoria said. "As an offensive player, I accept that and I understand that."

Yes, this team needs offensive help to be playing meaningful games in September. Maybe that help comes in a trade, but the odds of adding to this roster grow more dim with every loss.

So the hitters need to look at themselves. Not everyone in this lineup is capable of hitting .300 or bashing 20 homers, but they can at least give themselves a better chance of scoring runs with a more thoughtful approach.

"A lot of that is mental. What are you trying to do here? What are you looking for, what are you expecting the pitcher to throw?" Maddon said. "It's not about my hands, my feet, my head, and all of that crap. It's what am I thinking? So I've challenged them to think on a more professional level."

Offense lacking in Tampa Bay Rays' 5-4 loss to New York Yankees 07/19/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 19, 2011 8:01am]

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