ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays seem intent on turning back the clock to the bad old days.
Saturday's 3-2 loss to the Tigers was the Rays' 15th in their past 17 games, a stretch of ineptitude not seen since the dark green Devil Rays days of 2007.
Though Saturday was not marred by the type of grand mal mistakes they have been making, the Rays did enough small things wrong — too many walks in an inning, an inopportune home run allowed, a costly wild pitch — to come up short yet again, their margin for error getting increasingly tighter.
"It is pretty small right now," manager Kevin Cash said. "It definitely seems like any mistake or something that works against us seems to turn into a run against us right now."
The Rays reach the midway point of the season today with a 33-47 record, which puts them on a pace to lose 95 games, which would be their most since, no surprise, 2007. That was the last season before they changed their name and their identity, making the playoffs four times in the next six seasons. Until this stretch, the bad days had seemed mostly a distant memory.
Bench coach Tom Foley lived through more of them than anyone still in a Tampa Bay uniform, joining the big-league staff for the 2002 season, in which the team lost a franchise-record 106 games.
In Foley's first six seasons, the Rays averaged 98 losses, including — as yet another reminder of why Cash isn't going to take the fall for this mess — 101 and 96 in Joe Maddon's initial 2006 and 2007 campaigns as manager.
"I don't think we're anywhere close to that," Foley said after Saturday's loss. "We're not that.
"We've been pelted with injuries, and we know that, and we're trying to get through that. Yes, we're going through a rough stretch. We've got to wait for guys to get healthy, hopefully sustain where we are and try to make a little bit of a move. It's tough, but I was there, and I don't believe that we're (the old bad Rays). I know we're not."
One telling sign of those really bad teams was obvious frustration. There are days when what's happening now looks and sounds familiar, from the quiet and emptiness of the clubhouse to the blank stares and vacuous answers.
Some players show it with words. Evan Longoria went on Twitter after Friday's game to appeal to the fans to keep believing along with him. Chris Archer said he is wiping clean their record and considers today the first day of a new season.
Some players show it with actions. Brad Miller slammed his helmet Saturday after failing to get a run home. Newcomer Oswaldo Arcia broke his bat over his thigh after striking out.
"It's frustrating because the expectations here are high," Miller said. "They put us in a good position this spring, with a lot of good players in camp. The expectation is to win, which is what you want. So it's definitely frustrating. Very frustrating."
A more telling characteristic is that bad teams play not to lose rather than to win, waiting for the next bad thing to happen, for the next game to get away.
"I don't think it's anything like that," Foley said. "These guys are battling. Nobody is hanging their head. Nobody is feeling sorry for themselves. They know they have to go out there, bust their butt every day and perform.
"You can hear things in the dugout. They're trying to keep things upbeat, as tough as it may be sometimes. The mood, the atmosphere. They are approaching it the same way. Sometimes it's working; sometimes it's not."
As bad as it may be, Cash insists they won't become defeatists.
"We'll do everything we can for that not to happen," he said. "The guys in this clubhouse won't allow that to happen. We're going to show frustration. We all will do that because we all care a lot. But we're not going to set it where we're hanging heads and we're dragging through nine innings.
"This team is committed to going out and providing the effort that's needed to win major-league games. Unfortunately, we're not doing it right now. They will continue to take that effort, along with the front office, myself, the coaching staff. That will not change."
Looking at the talent on the roster, these Rays — at least when healthy — are a much better team than the Devil Rays squads. But among injuries, inconsistencies and other issues, they have not shown it.
And if something doesn't change, they may find themselves living in the past. And that is not a happy place.