As they have dealt with a seemingly endless string of injuries, the suspension of Joel Peralta and a steady shuffling of the roster to compensate, the Rays have seemingly stepped to the edge of a freefall several times, then managed to catch themselves.
But after another ugly loss Tuesday, this one 8-2, left them looking at the unsettling possibility of being swept by the Royals before heading home for seven games against the potent Tigers and powerful Yankees, it appears all that has gone wrong may finally be catching up to them.
They'll need a better overall performance, and a strong outing from rookie starter Matt Moore, on what is supposed to be sizzling hot afternoon to keep it from getting worse.
"We definitely need a win (today) just to get back on the right track," infielder Sean Rodriguez said. "It's just tough. You don't want to get complacent. I don't think we have been. But that can happen when you start to lose a couple games in a row like that. I could see there being a little bit more emphasis on winning (today), but I wouldn't say there's any extra added pressure."
Win, and the Rays - 40-34, 5-1/2 games out of first and a game off the wild-card pace - can feel good about a 4-5 road trip, given all the recent drama and knowing reinforcements are coming, with DH Luke Scott, starter Jeremy Hellickson and relievers Kyle Farnsworth and Peralta expected to rejoin them by the weekend.
But lose, and they're looking at the potential of a bad stretch tilting toward horrid as they plod toward the All-Star break, with what would be 10 losses in their past 15 games.
Every mistake is glaringly magnified, any break seemingly scarce, frustration creeping into the clubhouse.
"It's the Kansas City Mets or the New York Royals all over again," manager Joe Maddon said. "It's the same series we played a couple days ago against the Mets. It's almost like exactly the same stuff.
"They got us right now. We've got to figure out (today) somehow."
There were some reasons for encouragement, at least early as the Rays took a 2-0 lead, Carlos Pena crashing into catcher Brayan Pena and new addition Brooks Conrad hitting a homer to deep left, while rookie starter Chris Archer opened crisply.
But they had their now-usual lapse, this time in the third, when a couple of misplaced pitches by Archer and a couple of errors by Rodriguez, or as he preferred to call them, "interesting plays," led to a four-run Royals uprising.
Archer gave up a two-strike single and a double off the wall, Rodriguez misfired on the relay throw then mishandled the next ball (though it was hit so sharply he had a mark on his left wrist from the ball's stitches), and Archer allowed a two-run homer.
Four more runs off reliever Brandon Gomes, who wasn't nearly as sharp as in his last outing on Sunday, sealed it in the eighth, especially with another night of minimalist offense. After winning games Sunday started by Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee, the Rays were shut out Monday by Luke Hochevar and shut down Tuesday by Bruce Chen.
Archer, in the second and likely last start of his first big-league stint, made a solid impression. In his two starts he posted a 3.18 ERA over 11 2/3 innings with two walks and 14 strikeouts.
Marc Topkin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.