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IT DOESN'T GET ANY BETTER FOR RAYS

The sub-.500 Orioles cap a sweep with the majors-best Red Sox next.

Acknowledging this is a relative statement, but things look bad for the Devil Rays right now.

They've lost six straight and played poorly in doing so. Their pitching staff has been getting beaten up. Some of their top players (including B.J. Upton on Thursday) are a little banged up, and a brutal second-half schedule makes it worse as they return from another woeful road trip to entertain the best-in-baseball Red Sox and their rabid, make-themselves-at-home fans at the Trop tonight.

"Actually, I think that's a good thing," manager Joe Maddon insisted. "We should definitely be up for that game. There's going to be a big crowd. This would be the best time for us to crawl out of this hole."

The seemingly bottomless pit got deeper Thursday as the Rays fell 10-7 to the Orioles, losing a game Maddon admitted was "winnable." That makes it 10 losses out of 14 since the All-Star break, 22 of 28 and a major-league most 63 (of 101) overall with the very real chance for it to get triple-digit ugly by the end.

"That's how it is. We just don't win in the second half pretty much for whatever reason," All-Star outfielder Carl Crawford said.

"I really can't put my hand on one thing. I think it's a bunch of things. I don't know it's one thing other than we're just not getting it done."

As poor as the pitching was in the three losses in New York, as bad as the offense was in the first two games here, Wednesday's matinee loss was more the typical accumulation of a lot of little things going wrong. And against an Orioles team that on most days is usually among the league's worst.

Starter Edwin Jackson (who blamed himself for not being aggressive enough) and closer Al Reyes both pitched badly. Dioner Navarro didn't block the plate well enough on a key second-inning play. Balls bounced between and over speedy outfielders.

"We're losing the battle of the inches right now," Maddon said.

Somewhere in the middle, Carlos Pena hit his 24th homer and Ty Wigginton his 16th and Scott Dohmann, Juan Salas and Gary Glover actually strung together 32/3 consecutive scoreless innings of relief. And there was good news that it was cramps and dehydration that forced Upton from the game in the seventh, not an aggravation of the left quad strain that had been a problem, and after taking two bags of IV fluid, he is expected to play tonight.

But still ...

It was only a week ago that the Rays were feeling pretty good about themselves, having beaten up the Yankees 14-4 in the series opener after taking two of three from the West-leading Angels.

How long ago does that feel now?

"It seems like last year at some point," Maddon said. "It's incredible. What was it, three out of four? ... Playing really well and all of a sudden - boom! - it just flips. The approach is the same. The conversations are the same. Everything is the same, but all of a sudden, you just stop. We're unable to win those inches. We're just not doing it right now. We've got to do it."

Which brings us back to the Red Sox at the Trop tonight.

"You know their track record against us and what they're trying to accomplish this year, so you just know it's going to be tough," Crawford said. "We have to strap it up and try to find a way to get the intensity level back up."

Or things could look even worse.

Marc Topkin can be reached at topkin@sptimes.com.

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