ST. PETERSBURG — Team officials are stirring up interest and dropping ticket prices for the weekend showdown series with the A's, trying to do everything they can to help their red-hot Rays close the gap for the final American League playoff spot.
As unexpected and exciting as it is for the Rays to be playing meaningful games in mid-September of a season that seemed lost from the start, being eight games back with only 17 to play, it certainly looks like their charge to catch the A's — or, hmm, the fading Yankees? — is going to end up being too late, too little.
And leave them regretting some earlier missteps that cost them valuable ground they are now desperate to make up.
"Yeah, I think you can,'' manager Kevin Cash said. "There's probably different series and different games. I don't have one that comes to mind. But there have been a handful or more losses … that we'd like to talk about (and) you could say came back and haunt us. But it's tough to not be positive right now with the way the guys have performed.''
Cash, as he has been on a lot of things lately during the Rays' 18-4 and 26-12 runs, is right. There is a lot to be positive about, and plenty of losses and decisions that are haunting — and have proved costly.
Regrets? The Rays should have a few.
For example, here are 10, in some order of egregiousness:
For starters: After a thrilling opening-day win, the Rays lost the next game, and the next, and the next … eight in a row total. And as if 1-8 wasn't a big enough hole, they won two, then lost five of the next six for a 4-13 start. Since then, they are 76-52, a .594 clip.
Close shaves: Though they have been better of late, their MLB co-leading 28 losses in 53 one-run games provide ample material for the haunting pile. Related, a majors-most 13 losses when allowing one or two runs, and 22 when allowing three or fewer.
Pale effort: Any good team has to beat the bad teams. Getting swept at home in early August by a White Sox team that might lose 100 games, blowing each game in the final inning and losing by one run, was the most inexcusable showing of the season. Runnerup: losing three of four at Baltimore, July 26-29, and an overall mark of only 11-8 versus the majors' worst team in decades. Or look at it this way: The O's have only 41 wins, and eight were against the Rays.
For openers: What if the Rays had gone to the opener strategy sooner? Since doing so on May 19, they have the best ERA in the AL, are 59-43 (after being 21-22 to that point), and are 26-19 in games started by openers. Also of note, all 12 of their shutouts were thrown after implementing the opener.
Bullpen blowup: It's unusual to have your worst loss of the season in early April, but the Rays may have. April 8 in frigid Boston, they led 7-2 in the eighth and watched as Matt Andriese and Alex Colome teamed to hand the Sox an 8-7 win. (Their 18 blown saves are tied for seventh most in the league.)
Oopsies: Sometimes the simplest plays end up being hard. There wasn't much else to explain another crushing loss on June 3 in Seattle. Blake Snell had dazzled in his homecoming game, striking out the first seven, and 12 over six innings as an early 1-0 looked like it would stand up. Until the eighth, when a Jose Alvarado leadoff walk was compounded by first baseman Brad Miller inexplicably missing the throw on a sacrifice bunt, leading to two Seattle runs — and a 2-1 loss to cap a lost weekend in the middle of their second eight-game losing streak.
Walk that way: Any game lost on the last pitch has to be considered one that got away, and the Rays have seven of those walks off the field to lament. Most painful? The John Hicks bunt that Miller and Andriese didn't field in Detroit on May 2? The June 18 game in Houston they led 4-0 that Sergio Romo eventually blew? The similar crushers July 2 in Miami and July 15 in Minnesota where they rallied when down to their last strike in the ninth to tie, only to lose in 10 innings? Of note, Andriese threw the final pitch in three of those walkoff losses.
National perspective: There has been a lot of chatter about how the 80 wins the Rays have earned playing in the rugged AL East would put them in the playoff field in the National League, and tied for the lead in the NL West. But when playing NL teams, the Rays went only 7-13, including 2-4 against the lowly Marlins.
Chris crossed: It seemed like a sign of surrender when the Rays traded two-time All-Star pitcher Chris Archer to the Pirates on July 31. But based on the numbers, the question might be if they would've been better off trading him sooner. The Rays were 8-9 in Archer's starts this year (35-48 from 2016 on) and 53-53 with him on the roster (36-38 when active) and 27-12 since.
Service issues: There is no clear single date as a point of demarcation, but it's obvious the Rays have been better since transitioning to the young core. So what if they — and to be fair, as other teams did — hadn't waited until after the service-time limiting projected Super 2 cutoff date in early June to bring up the kids? How many more games would they have won if Willy Adames, Jake Bauers, Diego Castillo (with whom they are 50-25) and some others had gotten the calls sooner?
Contact Marc Topkin at email@example.com. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.