ST. PETERSBURG — The opportunity to make up ground by facing Boston and New York in the first seven games after the All-Star break is now a lost cause.
After Wednesday's 4-0 defeat, the Rays head into tonight's finale 2-4 in the stretch and further behind than when they started, trailing first-place Boston in the American League East by eight games and the wild-card-leading Yankees by 6½.
"It's very frustrating," said starter David Price. "Obviously, this team wants to win and be playing in October. We've got to pick it up and start winning some games."
The deficit not only limits the Rays' postseason possibilities, it might shape their strategy heading into the final 10 days before the July 31 deadline for nonwaiver trades, a market executive vice president Andrew Friedman described before the game as "very fluid" and changing "by the hour."
A lack of offense continues to be the primary problem as the Rays were shut out for the third time in their last seven games, ninth in the last 42 and 10th overall, most since 2004. They rank in the bottom third of the league in average, on-base percentage and strikeouts (adding 12 more, without any walks, on Wednesday).
Unless Friedman finds a deal that provides a significant upgrade, which manager Joe Maddon said he is not anticipating, there doesn't seem much they can do at this stage of the season (51-45 with 66 games left) except hope the players they do have suddenly start producing better to support their top-shelf pitching and defense.
"The thing that's frustrating about us — there's really only one thing — and that's that we're so inconsistent offensively," Maddon said. "The rest of the game, I'll take it. The rest of the game plays really at a high level. The rest of the game probably puts us at least 10 games over .500. We have to get better offensively."
On Wednesday, the two-run homer Price allowed to Curtis Granderson on the seventh pitch of the game became a monumental hole. The Rays flailed at Freddy Garcia's pitches and failed to score, stranding runners in scoring position in five innings, including the fifth when Evan Longoria's blast with two on was caught at the wall by a leaping Granderson. The Yankees added two more in the ninth.
"We've been shut out way too often recently," Maddon said. "We've got to do better. There's a lot of good things happening here. We just have to be more consistent offensively."
Maddon praised the work and dedication of the players and hitting coach Derek Shelton but found fault in their efforts Wednesday, saying Garcia "out-experienced" them.
"We were just chasing balls; really not good at-bats," Maddon said. "Our approach was not good today against him."
So even though Price (allowing a homer in his fourth straight game) worked into the eighth for the first time in four July starts — allowing six hits, walking two, striking out five, throwing 113 pitches — it didn't matter.
Price acknowledged the challenge of pitching consistently with such a small margin.
"Yeah, it's pretty tough," he said. "Those guys are trying."
At this point, that might not be enough.