OAKLAND, Calif. — The Rays are right. They no longer should be compared to last year's surprisingly successful team.
So how about 2007?
With another punchless performance in Sunday's 7-1 loss to Oakland, the Rays lost a fifth straight series for the first time since the middle of 2007's 96-loss disaster, and, at 7-12, dropped five games under .500, which they hadn't been since the end of '07, either.
Oh, and they're already 6½ games out of first place and 51/2 behind Boston.
"It's very frustrating," veteran Carl Crawford said. "We're in last place. We're not off to a hot start. We have to turn it around at some point if we're thinking about doing what we did last year. We can't afford to keep losing series like we've been doing. I know it's still early, but at a certain point we have to get it together."
And the sooner, obviously, the better. They haven't won even back-to-back games in two weeks and have only two "winning streaks" of two games.
"You don't want to keep saying, 'It's early, it's early,' because if there's not a sense of urgency then things could get out of hand real quick," Evan Longoria said. "We're definitely frustrated. … We experienced so much good last year that the losing side of things is not fun, and we don't want to be there. It hurts. It's got to hurt."
The primary problem Sunday was the same as much of the first three weeks of the season: a puzzling lack of offense. It was the eighth time in 15 games they've scored two or fewer runs, and they're not sure what to do about it. A poor start from Andy Sonnanstine — who allowed seven runs on 10 hits in four-plus innings — only made it tougher.
Manager Joe Maddon said he's less likely to tinker with the lineup, even though leadoff man B.J. Upton is hitting .156, catcher Dioner Navarro .183 and DH Pat Burrell .237 (with three extra-base hits), and they're near the bottom of the league in team average (.256), runs (84) and on-base percentage (.336).
"I'd have to have like really good reasons; I don't think it's nearly at that point yet," he said.
More likely, he will be patient and wait for things to improve.
"We're just not swinging the bats with any kind of consistency right now," Maddon said. "The work's been good. Everything's there, the preparation, they're watching video, they're talking, everything's good. It's just not happening. And that happens during the course of a baseball season. It's just happening to us right out of the chute.
"So for me, for us, just be persistent. And we'll be fine. I don't have any really brilliant reasons why it's happening. It just is."
Even more vexing is their struggles against left-handers. The signings of Burrell and Gabe Kapler were made significantly to address that deficiency, but last year's record of 25-24 against southpaw starters looks relatively splendid compared with this year's 1-7 mark.
"The lefty still bothers us, there's no question about that," Maddon said.
After being held to just four hits in 52/3 innings against Dallas Braden on Saturday, they managed only four more against Dana Eveland in five innings Sunday. Decent young pitchers, but not exactly the toughest lefties they're going to see.
"We're just struggling so much right now that it's hard to say how good (Eveland) was, and it's just a matter of us getting beyond this moment," Maddon said. "I don't know the equation. … We're just not where we're supposed to be."
In several ways.
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]