ST. PETERSBURG — Evan Longoria found a silver lining in a rough week for the Rays in which he admits, "We haven't played well at all."
"We can only go up," Longoria said. "We can only get better."
The Rays will need to after another loss, 2-0 to the Angels on Thursday in front of 15,741 at Tropicana Field. They got a solid five-inning spot start from rookie Jake Odorizzi. But they mustered just three hits and squandered another bases-loaded opportunity for their fourth loss in their past five games. It marked the first series loss at home since June 13-16.
"It's very frustrating," manager Joe Maddon said. "This whole day reeked of frustration."
The Rays (75-57) quietly put on their college football jerseys Thursday afternoon before heading to Oakland to kick off a telling 10-game West Coast trip they hope starts another memorable September run. They will face an A's team that, thanks to a walkoff loss Thursday to the Tigers, is still a half-game behind Tampa Bay for the top spot in the AL wild-card chase.
But the Rays trail the East-leading Red Sox by 21/2 games — after the Orioles beat them 3-2 on Thursday night — wanting to narrow the gap before hosting them Sept. 14-16.
"We still have a lead in the wild card and are still within close striking distance of Boston with a month of baseball to play. What more can you ask for?" Longoria said.
"We definitely haven't been playing anywhere near where we're capable of. I think we just go into the road trip with the hope we can figure it out sooner rather than later and get into a nice rhythm. Usually, the teams that end up going the furthest are the ones that get hot close to the end. But we've got to stay positive."
One positive Thursday was Odorizzi, who pitched with added velocity and confidence in his sixth big-league start and allowed just one run over five innings. "He pitched really, really well," Maddon said.
The Rays didn't give Odorizzi any support, going 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position. They had Angels lefty Jason Vargas on the ropes in the first inning, loading the bases with one out. But Sean Rodriguez popped out and Yunel Escobar flied out.
"It was kind of deflating," Maddon said. "And I felt that among the group. I could feel the guys were just not quite right today."
That timely hitting has been lacking for the Rays this month. They are hitting .174 with runners in scoring position in their 13 August losses, including stranding the bases loaded four times this series. The Rays had other opportunities Thursday. In the sixth, Ben Zobrist reached second with no outs. And in the ninth, the Rays put runners on second and third with one out.
It has been a group effort. Longoria and Wil Myers combined to go 0-for-19 in the series, and the starting Nos. 5-9 hitters on Thursday went 1-for-14.
"I think all of us are one pitch away from really turning the corner," Myers said.
Longoria said they need a couple of hitters doing it at the same time, a "spark to get that fire started again." He believes the Rays have the potential for "one or two more good runs where we can really put ourselves where we want to be."
"I'm just looking forward to getting on the road," Longoria said, "and hopefully changing our luck."
Joe Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.