If you close your eyes, this 6-5 Rays victory actually looks pretty good

The Rays didn’t play particularly well, but home runs from Brandon Lowe and Tommy Pham and a long day from the bullpen gets them a split.
MONICA HERNDON   |   TimesTampa Bay Rays leftfielder Tommy Pham (29) hit a homerun during the fifth inning of the Tampa Bay Rays game against the Los Angeles Angels on June 16, 2019 at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida.
MONICA HERNDON | TimesTampa Bay Rays leftfielder Tommy Pham (29) hit a homerun during the fifth inning of the Tampa Bay Rays game against the Los Angeles Angels on June 16, 2019 at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida.
Published June 16

ST. PETERSBURG — So this was a good victory for the Rays.

I mean, so long as you’re willing to overlook some of the details. Such as pitching. And maybe base­running. And fielding, too.

Oh yes, the Rays were fortunate to get a 6-5 win Sunday against the Angels to salvage a split in the four-game series and remain a half-game behind the Yankees in the American League East.

And maybe that sounds picky. After all, the season will be half-over by the end of next week, and the Rays (43-28) are leading the wild-card race while on pace to win 98 games.

Except they won’t come close to 98 wins if they keep playing like this. Especially not with a three-game series beginning Monday night in New York.

It’s not as if the bottom has fallen out or a glaring shortcoming has been revealed, but this is a team with little margin for error. The hitting isn’t strong enough to outslug a lot of teams, and the rotation isn’t dominant enough to carry Tampa Bay for weeks at a time.

The Rays don’t have to be perfect every game, but they have to be a whole lot sharper than they looked on this 3-4 homestand against a pair of .500 teams.

“We’re just not attacking guys like we’re capable of,’’ manager Kevin Cash said. “I don’t think there’s one part of our game that’s playing really well.’’

So what, specifically, are the Rays doing wrong?

• Pitchers failing to throw strikes. Jalen Beeks went to a full count on six of the 15 hitters he faced Sunday and was pulled after throwing 69 pitches in three innings. Blake Snell ran into similar problems Friday, and the Rays were forced to use six pitchers in both of those games.

• A team built around defense had errors in all four games of the Angels series. That doesn’t include plays such as the one Sunday, when pitcher Adam Kolarek failed to show urgency on a high hopper that Brian Goodwin turned into an infield single.

• The Rays came into the game having had more runners thrown out on the bases than any team in the majors. Right on cue, Austin Meadows seemed to get a slow start off third while tagging up and was thrown out at the plate in the third inning.

“Everybody in here knows we’re not playing to the standard we want to,’’ said catcher Mike Zunino. “Sometimes that adds a little bit more pressure and guys try a little bit harder, and that can prolong it. But we have a good group and once guys start feeling good, we’ll start playing our game again.’’

Once again, it’s important to keep this in perspective.

Even while not playing particularly well, and falling behind in the first two innings of all four games in the series, the Rays still got a split against the Angels.

Brandon Lowe hit his team-leading 15th home run, in the first inning Sunday to get the Rays out of a hole before an announced crowd of 20,508. Tommy Pham put them in the lead with a 419-foot homer in the fifth.

Colin Poche bailed out the bullpen with two efficient innings of work — while earning his first major-league victory — and the Rays added a pair of runs for some breathing room in the eighth.

As it turned out, they needed it all.

Diego Castillo got his seventh save in as many chances but not before giving up a two-run homer to Mike Trout and allowing the potential tying run to get in scoring position.

Castillo eventually struck out Kole Calhoun looking on a 3-2 slider to finish it.

“Any win is a win. An ugly win or a pretty win,’’ said Pham. “That’s all that matters. I think we need to clean some things up, but at the end of the day a win is still a win.’’

Contact John Romano at jromano@tampabay.com. Follow @romano_tbtimes.

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