1. Rays

Rays waste repeated opportunities in 5-3 loss to Blue Jays (w/video)

Rays reliever Tommy Hunter reacts as Justin Smoak circles the bases after hitting a go-ahead two-run home run in the eighth.
Rays reliever Tommy Hunter reacts as Justin Smoak circles the bases after hitting a go-ahead two-run home run in the eighth.
Published Aug. 18, 2017

TORONTO — The signs of frustration were readily apparent as the Rays trudged toward home Thursday after another game littered with squandered opportunities evolved into another wasted day in the wild-card race with a 5-3 loss to the Blue Jays.

"You can see it in the dugout, you can see it in the clubhouse. There's not really a way to try and loosen it up," team leader Evan Longoria said.

"Guys are frustrated. You come in after the games it's quiet. Nobody is happy. The losses are definitely tough at this point of the year. We've been hanging around, we've been getting lucky, the other teams that are around us have been losing. No one has really taken it and run away with it.

"That adds to the frustration of knowing that if we could go on a run we could be in a better position and we're letting some games slip away."

And maybe a season, too.

That's now 10 losses in the last 13 games, and 19 of the last 28, if you're still counting. And a 60-63 record that leaves them not only bunched at the bottom of the American League East race they a few weeks ago had visions of winning, but three games and five teams from the wild-card spot they once clutched.

Even before they took the field Thursday, manager Kevin Cash implored the urgency, if not the desperation, of the situation with both actions and words, making significant changes to the structure of the ongoingly impotent lineup, most notably moving Longoria up one from his long-preferred No. 3 slot, and pointed comments about time being of the essence.

And by early evening all they did was lose another day in what looks more and more like a losing battle.

"We have to start winning or else September is not going to be as fun as it could be," Chris Archer said after authoring the latest wasted start. "I think that we are capable. I think that we will. But we need to start, like, tomorrow."

September? August has proved treacherous enough, and Longoria suggested that even this small stage may be part of their problem.

"Some of that may be the reason why, we're feeling that added pressure of the playoff race and it's making it a little tough to get those hits in those situations," he said. "We have some veteran hitters in here and we've been in those situations before and there's really no excuse for it.

"We should be able to get a couple of them at least. Not saying you need to get a hit every time. But we've put ourselves in some pretty good situations and come out with nothing to show for it."

Nothing isn't far off. In 13 games since returning from Houston, they are a stunningly putrid 8-for-76 (.105) with runners in scoring position.

Cash and staff had been contemplating the lineup changes for a few days and scoring just 20 runs in the previous 12 games but then desperate enough to commit Thursday.

The design is primarily to separate the lefty hitters they had been bunching when hot and create an alternating balance, while providing a different look for the hitters, which they'll stick with for a while against righties, and have Longoria fully on board with it.

So naturally Thursday the new look provided ample chances, with baserunners in every inning, and very little to show for it.

Most glaring?

Down 3-1 with the bases loaded, no outs and into the Toronto bullpen in the sixth, they managed just one run, and only when Brad Miller hustled to beat out the back end of a double play.

Then down 3-2 in the eighth, they got even when Longoria doubled in a run with a blast centerfielder Ezequiel Cabrera just missed, but nothing else. A Steven Souza Jr. grounder was knocked down by second baseman Darwin Barney to load the bases, and Logan Morrison (3-for-his-last-22) failed again with a grounder to second.

"That's the way it goes sometimes," Cash said, "and it feels like we're saying that quite a bit right now."

And then it kept going that way when Tommy Hunter gave up a two-run homer the next inning to Justin Smoak.

"We've got to turn it around," Cash said. "You can only delay it for so long and say there's time, there's time. Time is of the essence."

That's one way to say it.