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Fennelly: Brutal weekend could be start of something worse for Rays

Brad Boxberger suffers his second loss in the three-game series, this time by allowing back-to-back homers in the eighth inning when called on to protect a 5-3 lead. “Just bad pitches,” he says.
Brad Boxberger suffers his second loss in the three-game series, this time by allowing back-to-back homers in the eighth inning when called on to protect a 5-3 lead. “Just bad pitches,” he says.
Published Jul. 24, 2017

ST. PETERSBURG — Well, that was lovely.

It ended with a whimper Sunday, a flailing strikeout by Steven Souza Jr. And the curtain fell on a disaster film disguised as a three-game baseball series in late July.

The Rays were swept by the Rangers at Tropicana Field, right out of any momentum they had from a successful western trip — three blown leads in as many days, three crushing losses.

Suddenly, the losing streak is four. Suddenly, it feels like the edge of a cliff.

And now 0-5, can't-hardly-go-five Blake Snell will toe the slab tonight at the Trop against the Orioles.

Key word: slab.

What a brutal weekend.

"Three tough losses," manager Kevin Cash said.

Oh?

Seems like just last Tuesday (because it was) that the Rays were rallying for two runs with two outs in the ninth to beat Oakland. The kind of win you feed off.

Now they're starving.

There was Friday, when bulldog Alex Cobb, who had pitched brilliantly, gave up a two-run homer in the ninth to let Texas tie the score, with an assist from Cash, who should have lifted Cobb after he allowed a well-struck double to lead off the ninth. Texas, 4-3, in 10 innings.

RELATED: Rays claim not to be panicking after third straight brutal loss to Rangers.

There was Saturday, when Mallex Smith dropped Adrian Beltre's fly ball, a two-out, two-run error, followed by a rattled Chris Archer throwing not one but two wild pitches to plate Beltre in with what proved to be the winning run. Texas, 4-3.

And there was Sunday and that old bullpen bugaboo. Actually, the bullpen wasn't bad, save for Brad Boxberger, the losing pitcher Friday, who sputtered again Sunday with consecutive eighth-inning homers for three Rangers runs. Texas, 6-5, with an assist from a woefully short four innings plus three batters from Jake Odorizzi.

Even good bullpens have a hard enough time throwing five scoreless innings, much less the Rays bullpen. Help is on the way with Sergio Romo, acquired from the Dodgers. Or is it? Help has a 6.12 ERA this season.

"Just bad pitches," Boxberger said Sunday.

"I just shanked it," Smith said Saturday.

The Rays shanked the whole weekend.

They remain 31/2 behind the AL East-leading Red Sox. But the Yankees have pulled ahead in the wild-card race and the Royals have pulled even.

And there's the real possibility of Snell putting up another short turn, against the Orioles, who are currently hitting like a softball team. One bad night by Snell (well, another one) and this bullpen could begin to be stretched and spent as the Rays hit the road later this week for eight games at the Yankees and Astros. The Rays are counting on Blake Snell tonight. Uh-oh.

That's how lost a weekend this was.

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"It was a bad series," Souza said. "We played bad, we pitched bad, we played bad defense, we hit bad. It was just one series. You can't take it like the whole season."

"We're right where we need to be," third baseman Evan Longoria said. "The division is well within reach. I don't know what everyone else in here says, but that's my goal, to win the division. We've got to find a way to start over, get some momentum and get on a roll."

As opposed to rolling over.

Contact Martin Fennelly at mfennelly@tampabay.com or (813)731-8029. Follow @mjfennelly.

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