OAKLAND, Calif. — There really isn't anything the Rays can change at this point, manager Joe Maddon calmly saying he will continue to use the same hitters in the same ways and wait for them to again start producing the way he confidently insists they can.
But they have to start doing things differently, and soon, before their postseason hopes spiral away.
A three-game sweep by the A's, capped with a 5-1 defeat Sunday, was the Rays' seventh loss in the past eight games, dropping them to 75-60, a hefty 5½ games behind the American League East-leading Red Sox with less than a month left, 2½ behind the wild card-leading A's and, of little consolation, three ahead of the Orioles and 3½ of the Yankees and Indians for the second wild card.
"We're lucky," third baseman Evan Longoria said. "We're lucky to have played well up until this point and lucky to be able to still have a lead and not have to panic just yet. But it's got to turn around quickly.
"We have to start doing little things right. We have to be able to mentally be prepared for the game, mentally do the things that are just as important as getting base hits and making errors and all that. I think it all starts with coming to the ballpark ready to play every day and being able to turn the page from the day before if it goes like (Sunday)."
The mistakes they have made — in the field, at the plate, on the bases — have been magnified because the lack of offense has minimized the margin. Sunday, even when the odd plan to start veteran reliever Jamey Wright and run through the bullpen actually worked pretty well, they compromised themselves several times — a Longoria throwing error leading to one run, bad baserunning by rookie Wil Myers costing them the chance to tie.
But the overriding issue, and concern, is an offense that has scored only 17 runs during the eight-game slide, hitting .217 overall, .186 with runners in scoring position.
Though he will work in new addition Delmon Young and an again-healthy Luke Scott, Maddon said he will stick with their set plan, building the lineups each day based on matchups and manipulating the same way during games. Overall, the Rays — with three of their top right-handed hitters, Longoria, Myers and Desmond Jennings, struggling — are ninth in the AL in runs and eighth in average.
"You don't change," Maddon said. "It's been pretty good to this point. A lot of these moments the right guys have been up there in the RBI situations, it just hasn't worked out. …
"The thing I understand that the average fan who is supposed to panic does not understand is this happens during the course of the major-league baseball season, and you just have to fight your way through it, that's all.
"And you stay with your guys. It's not about bringing new people in. It's not about trying a whole bunch of different things. It's about the guys that you planned to get out there, you stay with them and eventually they will."
The bullpen brigade, captained by Alex Torres, indeed kept them in Sunday's game. But, down just 2-1, the hitters failed. A one-out double by David DeJesus in the sixth went to waste when Ben Zobrist was robbed on a great play by first baseman Daric Barton and Longoria (2-for-his-last-27) struck out. In the seventh, Myers (11-for-70) doubled with two outs but broke late off the bag on a single by Jennings (6-for-42) and was thrown out at the plate. After former Ray Stephen Vogt's homer made it 3-1, a leadoff pinch-double by Kelly Johnson also netted nothing as Scott, Young and Zobrist went down in order.
"We're going to be fine," Maddon said. "We're going to play well. We're going to come back. We're going to get through this moment. We're a much better offensive club than this. I fully believe that."
Maybe they are, maybe they aren't.
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]ay.com.