ST. PETERSBURG — Sixty-two games into The Season After, the Rays are even. Now they have 100 games left to show if they're special.
With an 11-1 victory over the Angels on Thursday, the Rays improved to 31-31. With Pat Burrell returning tonight and others coming, they are confident better days are ahead.
But the challenge will be difficult.
To win 90 games, the likely minimum to make the playoffs, the Rays must go 59-41, which means playing at nearly a .600 pace when they have yet to get to even two games over .500. To match last season's 97 wins, they'd have to go 66-34, a .660 clip. And those 100 games include 36 against the three teams ahead of them in the AL East: the Red Sox (whom they trail by six games), Yankees and Blue Jays.
"We've got to get our starting pitching right. We've got to get the bullpen in order, and we've got to get folks healthy," manager Joe Maddon said. "We have not even come close to playing our best baseball yet. And we're still nice and handy, and I like it.
"I like it because I know our run's coming."
Thursday's game was another example of why they are where they are: the inability to get all facets of their game in synch.
The offense, which leads the majors with 350 runs, was in high gear again, producing four home runs, including Carlos Peña's AL-high matching 19th and Evan Longoria's 14th, ending a career-worst 0-for-19 skid.
But starter David Price was again erratic, pitching himself out of the game in fewer than five innings and forcing the bullpen to carry too large a share of the load, Grant Balfour, Randy Choate and Joe Nelson teaming for the final 14 outs.
Price delivered another good news/bad news performance in his fourth start of the season, fifth of his career.
The good: He left without giving up a run; allowed only two hits, a single on his third pitch and an infield single on his last; and struck out six.
The bad: He failed to get through the fifth; walked six and used 105 pitches, including 32 in the first, when he walked the bases loaded; threw first-pitch strikes to only six of his 20 hitters; and had eight full counts.
"Not good,'' Price said. "I shouldn't be anywhere around 100 pitches in the fifth inning.''
With the Rays leading 4-0, Price had a chance to get through the five innings needed for a win. He got the first out. But he walked Chone Figgins, and when Bobby Abreu reached on a check-swing roller, Maddon decided he'd had enough — for his own good.
"I didn't see it as getting any better,'' said Maddon, who was booed when he came out to pull Price. "I'm more concerned about the future of the Tampa Bay Rays and also David Price. I'm even concerned about his future wife and his kids. So I want to make sure we take care of him properly."
In 19 innings with the Rays, the 23-year-old has allowed 18 walks, compared to 13 hits, and struck out 26. He has left with the lead in each of four starts but has only one win.
"That's frustrating,'' he said. "I've given away two wins already this year.''
The bullpen, which had to work 51/3 innings Wednesday, stepped up again.
"You're going to look at all the offense, but I was really pleased with what the bullpen did,'' Maddon said.
The Rays, who are expecting Burrell back tonight and Jason Bartlett on Tuesday, continued to hit well without them. Thursday was the fourth time in the past eight games they scored nine or more runs and 13th time overall.
They also got homers from Carl Crawford and Dioner Navarro, who also had a two-run double. Gabe Gross and Ben Zobrist chipped in, too.