ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays are going to have to do a lot of things better over the remaining seven weeks if they are going to make the playoffs.
They are going to have to field better, as they've dropped from one of the AL's tidiest clubs last season to among the least handy, as only six teams have made more errors.
They are going to have to hit better, as they went from one of the AL's most productive clubs to one of its least consistent, scoring four or fewer runs 61 times in 115 games (sixth most in the AL), and starting players B.J. Upton and Carlos Peña ranked 155th and 160th in average among the 161 major-leaguers with enough at-bats to qualify for the batting title.
They are going to have to manage better, as Joe Maddon has to field the best team on a nightly basis without regard to past loyalties, bruised feelings or esprit de corps.
They are going to have to close out games better, having lost 25 games by one or two runs and 13 when they've been tied or ahead after six innings.
They are going to have to play on the road better, as their 25-35 record away from the Trop is the third worst among all contending teams.
But more than anything, if you look and listen closely, they are going to have to pitch better at the start of games, as what had been considered a strength of the team has turned into an area of concern.
They have only one starter, Jeff Niemann, with a winning record. Their 51 quality starts (six or more innings, three or fewer runs) are more than only four teams. Their 4.63 starters ERA was 19th in the majors, their 94 home runs allowed sixth highest.
"We're going to go as far as our starters take us," Maddon said.
"We have to not even step up, just do what we're capable of doing," Matt Garza said. "All five of us know what we're capable of. … We just have to get to the point where every night we know what we're getting out of our starters — six, seven, maybe eight innings, three runs or less, then turn it over to the bullpen. …
"We all know what we've got to do, and we know this last seven weeks is a sprint. No more marathon, it's all sprinting. And I think we're geared the right way to get it done."