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Tampa Bay Rays, quiet at trade deadline, need strong efforts from several players down stretch

The Rays got, in theory, some help Saturday by trading for reliever Chad Qualls, especially after losing Grant Balfour to injury.

And they could get more help later this month as players clear waivers, as they did the past two seasons in picking up bit players such as Chad Bradford, Gregg Zaun and Russ Springer.

But the key to a successful run to the postseason will just as much be some of the core players who have been in the clubhouse:

• For starters, James Shields.

He was 4-0, 3.15 ERA after six starts, and 5-2, 2.99 after 10. But three consecutive rough outings — allowing seven, three and 10 runs — skewed his numbers, and perhaps his confidence, as he went through a stretch of eight losses in 10 starts.

During much of that time, Shields insisted he wasn't pitching that badly, that it was a matter of a few small mistakes costing him big time. And now that he has won two straight heading into today's start against the Yankees, he can see the difference.

"It's time for me and (Matt) Garza to step up a little bit and take our role a little bit more seriously," Shields said.

• For another, B.J. Upton.

Put aside all the melodrama of the first two months. The bottom line remains that Upton has the ability — with his bat, his glove, his arm, his feet — to significantly affect a game nightly.

And if he can step up during the stretch run, he can make the biggest difference of any player on the roster.

• And for another, Joaquin Benoit.

In this case, it's not a matter of Benoit stepping up and doing more. If anything, he has already done way more than anyone could have imagined. Signed to a minor-league contract after missing last season because of shoulder surgery and sent to Triple A Durham to build arm strength to start this year, he has turned into one of the best setup men in the game.

The Rays, especially with Balfour out, need Benoit just to stay healthy and keep doing what he has been doing.

• And finally, Reid Brignac and Sean Rodriguez.

Defense is a key part of the Rays' game, and these two have made it even better whenever they step on the field. But the offense they have added has been unexpected, and given the inconsistencies elsewhere in the lineup, it's an element the Rays are going to need more of over the final eight weeks.

Tampa Bay Rays, quiet at trade deadline, need strong efforts from several players down stretch 07/31/10 [Last modified: Saturday, July 31, 2010 6:26pm]
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