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Plenty of blame to go around for Rays' offensive slump

ST. PETERSBURG, FL - AUGUST 13:  Corey Dickerson #10 of the Tampa Bay Rays strikes out swinging to end the fifth inning of a game against the Cleveland Indians on August 13, 2017 at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images) 700012011
ST. PETERSBURG, FL - AUGUST 13: Corey Dickerson #10 of the Tampa Bay Rays strikes out swinging to end the fifth inning of a game against the Cleveland Indians on August 13, 2017 at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images) 700012011
Published Aug. 15, 2017

TORONTO — When a team is going as bad as the Rays are, including Monday's 2-1 loss to the Blue Jays, there has to be somebody to blame, right?

When a team gets shut out five times in an eight-game span? Scores a stunningly low 12 runs in a 10-game stretch? Comes up empty in 81 of the last 91 innings it batted?

To this point, there has been no finger-pointing in the clubhouse. No widespread sense of panic, or desperation. No massive wave of negativity that has washed over them.

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Players say the credit for that goes to manager Kevin Cash and his staff for keeping the message and the vibe positive. Coaches, in turn, praise the players for continuing to work and play hard, even with the dangerous double of extended struggles during the fatiguing month of August.

"I don't have any good answers," Cash said after Monday's loss. "I know it's my responsibility to have answers. I don't have 'em right now."

Well, when a team goes from one of the majors' most productive before the All-Star break to one of the most impotent, someone has to. Here are nine places blame can be pointed:

1. Corey Dickerson. In a way it's unfair to put him first since he's a victim of his own staggering early season success, which got him elected to the All-Star Game but realistically was not sustainable. But, still, his dropoff has been dramatic. In his first 75 games, coinciding with the night All-Star voting ended, Dickerson was among the American League's best, hitting .333 with a .955 OPS and striking out just 67 times. In 38 games since he has hit .187 with an OPS in the mid .500s and has struck out 48 times. And you wonder if that playing-leftfield-every-day thing may be draining him as well.

2. Brad Miller. After a first half marred by injuries and inconsistent play, the Rays nevertheless bet heavily on Miller in making him the starting second baseman and trading Tim Beckham. (More on him in a couple of paragraphs.) And Miller has done his part to make it look like a bad decision in 13 games since the trade, hitting .179 with only three extra-base hits, nine 10 inflating his OPS to a respectable number.

3. Wilson Ramos. The touted catcher came off the DL early and with a bang, but in 24 games since the All-Star break, including Monday's first at-bat homer, he hit .143 with two extra-base hits and an OPS barely above .300 — yes, that's on-base plus slugging percentage. Cash has been quick to defend Ramos in pointing out he is still coming off major right knee surgery, but, still, more was fairly expected.

4. Logan Morrison. Similar to Dickerson, he vastly exceeded any expectations and projections early in the season and, fairly, was due for some regression. But, also like Dickerson, it has been severe. In 82 games, leading right up to about when the All-Star rosters were set without him, Morrison hit .267 with 24 homers and a .956 OPS. In his next 30 games starting July 7, Morrison dropped off to .194 with four homers and an OPS in the low .600s.

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5. Tim Beckham. You can blame the Rays for trading Beckham as a result of their decision to bet on Miller, and he has certainly made them look bad with a sizzling start in Baltimore, hitting .491 with 12 extra-base hits in his first 13 games. The curse of dealing him? They had their reasons, some on- and some off-field and not seeing him as a good fit on the bench, and those can be questioned, too. But Beckham wasn't playing well for the previous three weeks, hitting .173 with three extra-base hits over his last 23 games, most of which were right after the Rays moved him off shortstop when they upgraded to Adeiny Hechavarria, and the sulking wasn't a good sign.

6. Manager Kevin Cash. There's absolutely no reason to think it would work, but it may be time for Cash to go against his beliefs and his personality and do something silly. Pull the lineup out of a hat. Let a player fill out the card. Use the winning lotto numbers. Go the 8-6-7-5-3-0-9 Tommy Tutone route. We're not talking about a Joe Maddon-esque clubhouse band or petting zoo. Nor a Lou Piniella-like tirade, with raised voices and flipped-over tables. Just something a little bit different to change the look.

7. Evan Longoria. Though his overall performance has been solid, he never really got from warming to sizzling, and his .179 average in 11 games since his Aug. 1 cycle in Houston definitely contributed to the dropoff.

8. Kevin Kiermaier. Injuries are part of the game, and their record with him in the lineup, 30-30, isn't that much different than in the two-plus months he has been out, 29-31. But as Mallex Smith continues to struggle, it's hard not to think Kiermaier wouldn't be making more of a difference.

9. Chad Mottola. It seems wrong to do an entire column on a team's offensive struggles and not mention the hitting coach, but there's really not much more he can do. This isn't football, where Mottola is the offensive coordinator calling the plays. His job is to work with the hitters individually, which he does tirelessly; to keep them feeling good about themselves, which he does with a perpetually positive approach; and to have them prepared with an approach for each pitcher, which he and the staff provide. He can't make them swing at good pitches and not chase bad ones.

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

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