SEATTLE — At least the Rays are being consistent.
Immersed in a stretch of what manager Joe Maddon candidly and accurately on Saturday afternoon called their "worst baseball of the year," the Rays kept it up in a 6-2 evening loss to the Mariners.
There was the obligatory error, and on their first play. A second straight abbreviated start by rookie Chris Archer. And another night of listless and inefficient offense, held to five hits with their only runs scoring on an Evan Longoria homer.
"It's never fun and it's somewhat frustrating," Maddon said. "But I have full faith in our guys. Fortunately the season has several more weeks to go and there's plenty of time to right this thing and maybe get as hot as we've been cold."
The loss was the Rays' seventh on the 10-game West Coast odyssey that ends today and the 11th in their past 14 games, their worst such stretch since a September 2009 collapse.
"The good news is we only have one more game on this West Coast trip," Maddon said.
The Rays dropped to 77-64 and are all but mathematically out of the American League East race, trailing the Red Sox by 8½ games with 21 to play, but they still have held on to the second wild-card spot. That margin, however, is now down to one game over the Indians and Orioles, with the Yankees 2½ back and the Royals 3½. The Rangers hold the first wild card, leading the Rays by three games.
"Over the course of a year, you see all these streaks and you see this, that and the other and everybody wants to figure it out,'' first baseman James Loney said. "Bur that's the game,''
Archer was pulled after four innings and 75 pitches, having allowed three runs (two earned) on four hits, including two solo homers.
Maddon said he didn't see it getting better for the 24-year-old right-hander. Archer said he was surprised to get pulled and thought he was doing okay: "I felt good about it.''
The Ray' growing concerns about Archer's workload in his first extended major-league action seem to have merit, as he lasted only 3 2/3 on Monday in Anaheim, allowing five runs on nine hits.
He has now thrown 160 innings (110 with the Rays), surpassing his career high of 1571/3 from last year, most of which were at Triple A. The Rays had already decided Archer would get extra rest before his nex start, which was pushed back to Friday in Minnesota.
Saturday, Archer gave up runs in each of the first three innings. The first came after Loney booted leadoff man Brad Miller's ground ball. "It was hit hard,'' Loney said. "Tough error.''
The next two clearly were Archer's fault, homers by Justin Smoak and Kendry Morales on pitches that he admittedly didn't execute.
Maddon said the Mariners weren't a good matchup for Archer, he believed the three runs were enough and the bullpen — specifically Alex Torres and Jamey Wright — might fare better. "I didn't see it turning around,'' Maddon said.
Archer didn't think it was so bad.
"I'm sure if we weren't in such a tight pennant race two solo home runs wouldn't have led to me coming out,'' he said. "But considering the situation, I have to understand we're trying to do what's best for the team. Right now, it's beyond personal development. We're trying to win games, If they thought I wasn't the best person to do that from the fifth inning on, then that's just what they felt.''
Torres took over and didn't do much better, allowing a run in the fifth (a double and two bunts), then teaming with Wright to give up two more in the sixth.
"Their add-on runs really hurt,'' Maddon said.
The Rays got back into the game briefly in the sixth when Ben Zobrist reached on an error and Longoria crushed a two-run homer, his first since Aug. 25, cutting the margin to 4-2.
Down 6-2 the next inning, they had their nightly moment of blatant inefficiency, getting the first two on — and then to third and second after a wild pitch — but nothing out of it as Yunel Escobar (0-for-his-past-16), Desmond Jennings and Zobrist went down in order.
Seattle's James Paxton, a 24-year-old taken in the fourth round of the 2010 draft, was the fourth starter to make his major-league debut against the Rays this season. And he became the third to beat them, working six solid innings, holding them to four hits and the two runs, joinin Houston's Jarred Cosart and Texas' Nick Tepesch.
"The effort's good, the preparation's good, everything's good,'' Maddon said. "We're just unable to get the hit when we need to.
"I know we gave up six runs, but sometimes you've got to score seven, sometimes you've got to score eight. We're still unable to really put an offense together.''
Unusual after a loss, there was music playing in the Rays clubhouse. Maddon sounded positive, too, insisting they can turn things back around. How?
"Just staying after it,'' Maddon said. "These are the kind of moments that if you do quit on yourself, then it goes away. But we'll continue to fight through it, and all of a sudden you come out on the other side. It's truly that simple and difficult at the same time.''