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Five reasons the Rays offense has rebounded

ST. LOUIS — Rays rightfielder Steven Souza Jr. was in no mood to call it a comeback — or a bounceback or a breakthrough after Friday's win over the Cardinals. The seven runs and 16 hits the Rays posted were the latest signs they had shaken the fallow stretch that had smothered their offense for two-plus weeks, but he didn't find it particularly noteworthy.

"Hello. We're awake. We're here," Souza said. "I wouldn't say it's a breakout performance. This is what we did the whole first half, so we're getting back on track. I think this is our identity of who we are."

As they continued scoring, though not winning, in a 6-4 walkoff loss Saturday, the question over what they are doing differently to come back online — scoring 34 runs in their past seven games after 24 in the previous 14 — gets a similar shrug from manager Kevin Cash as did queries over their extended drought.

"I don't think anything has changed," Cash said. "I didn't think anything changed when they were going down other than the fact we were missing pitches to hit — hittable pitches. I think it's just kind of flowed, kind of gone through its course a little bit. And hopefully we're going to continue to see the benefit of going through that little bit of a drought."

But there are some reasons they are doing better, including these five:

OUTLAW ON THE LOOSE: Speedy centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier returned from 2½ months on the disabled list in a hurry, sliding into the leadoff spot and setting an aggressive pace: hitting .314 in his first eight games with three homers and eight RBIs. Though Cash tried to protect Kiermaier by downplaying initial expectations, he admits now that Kiermaier has had "quite a bit" to do with their resurgence. "Everybody asked right when he came back what he's going to do energy-wise and all that, he's probably superseded that," Cash said. "The offense, the spark at the top of the lineup, getting on base, that goes a long way when you've got Souza, (Evan Longoria), (Lucas) Duda and (Logan Morrison) coming up. Having a speed guy like KK on base, it's nice. They like to hit with a guy like that on base."

THE COREY STORY: Making the All-Star team led to a big dropoff in production along with some clear fatigue, both mental and physical, but Corey Dickerson is finally making up for it. The four hits he rapped Friday and his career-high 25th homer on Saturday made him 10-for-19 over his previous five games, with his home run his third in five games after hitting just one in his previous 18. Hitting coach Chad Mottola said he noticed Dickerson "rebooting" himself mentally and physically, and the decision to drop him from the top to the lower half of the order might have served to further reduce the pressure he was putting on himself. Also, Mottola said, "He maybe was getting a little homer-happy, and now he's accepting base hits and that homers happen by accident." Cash added that Dickerson — while still chasing bad balls off the plate — also had shown a little bit of patience in lengthening at-bats.

THE BUFFALO ROAMS: Adjustments to lower his hands and bend his legs more based on watching 2016 video has made a huge difference for catcher Wilson Ramos, who after a 20-game stretch of hitting .109 ran off a nine-game run of hitting .500, going 16-for-32 before an 0-for-4 Saturday. Though he hasn't yet flexed the power he was known for before the major right knee surgery that sidelined him into June, he has provided glimpses. "He's gotten the barrel to the ball much more," Cash said.

ARMS RACE: The skid started when the Rays returned Aug. 4 from Houston and faced a slew of top-notch and/or finely tuned starters, including Boston's Chris Sale and Cleveland's Carlos Carrasco and Corey Kluber, leading to a staggering stretch of five shutouts in eight games and just 11 runs in nine. Contributing were strong starts by Milwaukee's less-heralded trio of rookie Brandon Woodruff, Zach Davies and Jimmy Nelson, plus the work of Boston's Rick Porcello and Cleveland's Danny Santana and Mike Clevinger. Rays top starter Chris Archer put that in perspective: "We faced some really high-end pitchers for like a week straight, and that can throw a team off.'' Not that many big-league starters are easy marks — and the Rays have had their troubles with some of them anyway — but they certainly have drawn more favorable matchups recently.

TELLING TIME: Just like some of the Rays weren't as good as they showed early in the season, there was no way they could be as bad as they were for the rest. Add in the steadying influence and leadership of Longoria as what Mottola cited as "the rock" of the lineup and the oscillating contributions from Duda, Morrison, Adeiny Hechavarria and even Brad Miller, and it would not have been possible for them to stay that bad for the rest of the season. "Slumps are going to happen in a season," Mottola said. "It was just kind of crazy how many guys were in the funk at the same time."

Marc Topkin can be reached at mtopkin@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.

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