Friday, February 23, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Rays' loss to Orioles stirs unease

ST. PETERSBURG — David Price wasn't very acey. The new and improved offense managed all of six hits. A mainstay of the bullpen was blown up.

Just asking: How is your hope today?

After all, isn't that what opening day is all about? Isn't it about hope and hints and promises for the future? Isn't about a preview of the season to come? Isn't it a symbol of what lies ahead?

Well, oops.

Baltimore, 7-4.

If Tuesday afternoon meant anything, it meant that Price is still fine-tuning, and Jake McGee is still searching for location, and that the Rays should still have a help wanted sign in the window for anyone who can swing a bat. It meant that the defense is still going to be good, and by the way, it had better be.

Oh, and it meant that the Rays will not go 162-0.

Granted, opening day is all about symbolism, and how a team does at the start has very little to do with how it will finish. Reasonable people know this, and losing teams remind the rest of us all the time. Losing on opening day is like stumbling during the start of a marathon. It is one day's worth of frustration.

That said, it feels worse. Especially after watching the Rays get dumped on their symbolic keesters in Tuesday's opener against the Orioles. It is not the preferred way to begin a season.

Ask yourself this: Do you have more faith or less in the Rays after Tuesday?

Ask yourself this: How do you think the sellout crowd felt as it filed out of the Trop?

The Rays were home, and they had the American League's best pitcher going, and they were facing the team that finished ahead of them in the AL East last year. They had every reason in the world to want to jump-start the season.

And, man, did they muss the bed.

Start with Price, who scuffled his way through six innings. He actually had a lead, 3-2, a half-inning after the Rays took him out, but no, Price was not exactly Cy Young sharp. Much of the reason the Orioles only had two runs was that Evan Longoria spent most of the afternoon looking like a Wallenda. He kept diving, and kept throwing from his posterior, and because of it, the Rays kept dodging bullets.

Then there was McGee, a quiet star in last year's bullpen. This time, he gave up five runs in the seventh inning, including the kill-shot, a two-run double to Adam Jones on an 0-and-2 count. McGee blamed his location. He's right, it ended up being located in the left-centerfield gap.

"I'm equally as hopeful as I was going into the game," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "We did some good things out there. I like a lot of today's game. I just didn't like the seventh inning for them. That's a game we usually win 3-2 or 4-2 by holding on."

If you are looking for reasons to hope, start with the Rays' defense. Consider, for instance, the dirt on Longoria's uniform. He was a kid in the sand Tuesday, and he led a reinvigorated defense. Sam Fuld had a good day in the field, too, and Yunel Escobar and James Loney.

For instance, there was Desmond Jennings, who hit the ball on the nose four times, including a tying double.

For instance, there was Ben Zobrist, who had a homer and a sacrifice fly.

And, as Maddon will tell you, there was something admirable to Price struggling along without his best stuff and getting through six and giving up only two runs.

"They got us in that seventh inning," Maddon said.

In the days to come, it's a good bet that Price will be pretty good. McGee will be better, too, once he stops throwing 0-and-2 cutters. The defense? That's the 2002 Bucs. Yeah, you're going to see good defense all season long.

Ah, but the hitting? It's going to be interesting to see whether it is any better than it was last season or not. If it isn't, this season is going to feel uphill, too.

Put it this way: There is enough history to believe in the rotation, and in the bullpen, and in the defense. The hitting? Not so much. One game in, and this team is hitting .200. Sound familiar to anyone?

Again, no one is trying to be an alarmist here. Granted, this is just one misstep on a long journey. These Rays will win a lot of games.

They will not win the opener, however.

And, as the season says hello, that's a bit of a downer. As of today, the Rays are playing chase.

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