1. Rays

Rays beat Orioles, but tough stretch looms that could change their plans (w/video)

The Rays’ Tim Beckham celebrates with Mallex Smith after hitting a three-run homer in the second inning for a 5-0 lead.
Published Jul. 26, 2017

ST. PETERSBURG — Tuesday was a step back in the right direction for the Rays, who halted a season-high five-game losing streak by hanging on — and we mean that pretty much literally — for a 5-4 win over the Orioles.

Rookie Jake Faria made his shaky previous outing look like just a blip by working solidly into the eighth. Tim Beckham delivered the big hit they'd been missing with a three-run homer in the five-run second. And the bullpen duo of Tommy Hunter and Alex Colome teamed, somewhat tenuously, to get the final five outs, with huge hand from the steady glove of third baseman Evan Longoria.

Logging their 52nd W was important, as was stopping the negative momentum and vibe as the losing streak reached five.

"We needed to shake hands," manager Kevin Cash said. "We needed a win, and that was a good one."

But the bigger issue was keeping the front office on track with their plans leading up to Monday's nonwaiver trade deadline seeking a proven reliever and a right-handed bat.

Looking to buy.

But it's fair to wonder if there is a "for now" to be attached to that.

The five straight losses didn't actually hurt the Rays too badly as they are one game back for the second American League wild card and within three of the East-leading Red Sox, pending Boston's late West Coast game, though with the Yankees now betwixt them.

But their skid came at a bad time, not just because it was in the week leading up to the deadline but because of what their next three weeks look like.

After wrapping things up with the Orioles today, the Rays head to New York to open a perilous stretch of their schedule — 17 games against the contending Yankees, Astros, Brewers, Red Sox and Indians.

And that, too, could cause some pause on the plan.

This is an analytics-driven team playing a statistic-based game, so there is obviously a calculus involved in determining the wisest course of action. (As Cash joked after the game, "Our analytic guys upstairs are telling me the percentages of one win and one loss — I've heard a lot over the last couple years.")

But some combination of the Rays results, the computer projections and additions made by teams they are competing against — with rumors of the Yankees working to get top starter Sonny Gray and All-Star first baseman Yonder Alonso from Oakland — are going to factor in, on kind of a sliding scale.

In other words, there likely is a number of wins over the next five days that would reinforce the decision to buy. Relievers that have been mentioned include Justin Wilson, Hunter Strickland, Pat Neshek, AJ Ramos and Tony Watson, among others. As for bats, Ian Kinsler, Brandon Phillips and Melky Cabrera are at least worth thinking about.

A different digit that might back them off from paying a premium price in terms of which prospects they'd give up, or even scroll them back to stand pat.

And maybe even in a worst-case scenario, like losing another five straight, that would get them to flip to be sellers by Monday's 4 p.m. deadline.

"We've got to get on a roll now," Cash said. "We've got a challenge (today) in a day game here, and then obviously we go on the road."

All of which brings us back to a question we thought we answered last week:

Could today be Alex Cobb's last start at the Trop as a Ray?

As the Rays' sturdiest starter and a huge part of their success, it would definitely seem not if the front office execs believe as strongly in the team as they've been indicating.

As a free agent who can otherwise walk away at the end of the season with no compensation, it could certainly be if the Rays brass were to second-guess the legitimacy of their chances.

Asked about the possibility on Tuesday, Cobb said he hadn't thought about it one bit. And really didn't expect to.

"I would like to go back in baseball history and see how many times a team has been a seller while you're currently in a playoff spot," Cobb said. "That would be a good reference point to start at. Or being a game out. I wonder how many teams have sold."

Plus, these Rays haven't been in the playoffs since 2013, and not under their current management.

"From being around here knowing how much the organization cherishes the opportunity," Cobb said. "Every organization cherishes it, but for us, how difficult it is to compete in this division, and how very few opportunities we have to make the playoffs, it would just be — I don't really know the right word — how asinine it would be to a team to not take full advantage of that opportunity."

Win a couple, buy a couple. That sounds like a plan.

Marc Topkin can be reached at Follow @TBTimes_Rays.


  1. Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Blake Snell (4) delivers a pitch in the fourth inning against the Houston Astros in Game 5 of the American League Division Series on Oct. 10 in Houston. DIRK SHADD  |  Times
    Rays Tales: Team execs on Houston’s big problem, a base for winter moves, trophy time and an upcoming owners meeting.
  2. Yesterday• Sports
    Jameis Winston (3) points to fans after the Bucs' 2017 victory over the New Orleans Saints. Tampa Bay Times
    Sports Day Tampa Bay podcast: Previewing Bucs-Saints, justice for the Astros, answers for the Lightning.
  3. FILE - In this July 24, 2019, file photo, Houston Astros starting pitcher Justin Verlander throws to an Oakland Athletics batter during a baseball game in Houston. Verlander has been awarded his second AL Cy Young Award. MICHAEL WYKE  |  AP
    The Mets’ Jacob deGrom wins the NL award for the second straight year.
  4. Tampa Bay Rays manager Kevin Cash talks with reporters in the dugout the day after clinching a playoff spot. DIRK SHADD  |  Times
    Former Ray Rocco Baldelli wins top honors after his first season with the Twins, Aaron Boone was second.
  5. Erik Neander, Tampa Bay Rays senior vice president of baseball operations and general manager, addresses the media during a press conference at Tropicana Field Friday, Oct. 11, 2019 in St. Petersburg. DIRK SHADD  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Award came from a vote of team executives; Yankees Cashman was second.
  6. Flanked by his mother, Michelle Alonso, left, father Peter Alonso (blue shirt, standing), girlfriend Haley Walsh, right, and friends, New York Mets rookie first baseman Pete Alonso, 24, reacts as he finds out he has won the National League Rookie of the Year award on Monday at his home in Tampa.  Alonso, a Plant High graduate, made a grand entrance to the big leagues, hitting a major-league rookie and team-record 53 home runs for the Mets. DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD  |  Tampa Bay Times
    The easiest part of the day for the travel-weary first baseman may have been receiving the prestigious award.
  7. Tampa Bay Rays manager Kevin Cash speaks at a news conference before an Oct. 1 American League wild-card game practice in Oakland, Calif. JEFF CHIU  |  AP
    Marc Topkin: The Twins Rocco Baldelli and Yankees Aaron Boone are the other two finalists for the hard-to-define award.
  8. Tampa Bay Rays second baseman Brandon Lowe (8) is showered with sunflower seeds after hitting a solo homer in the fourth inning against the Houston Astros in Game 3 of the American League Division Series Monday, Oct. 7, 2019 in St. Petersburg. DIRK SHADD  |  Times
    Former Plant High and Florida star Pete Alonso a favorite for NL Rookie of the Year, to be announced Monday
  9. Erik Neander, Tampa Bay Rays senior vice president of baseball operations and general manager, says of the general manager meetings, which start this week, "We’d love to find a way to score a lot more runs without sacrificing run prevention.'' DIRK SHADD  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Rays Tales: Erik Neander says 2019 success provides “a stronger starting point” than they have had in a while. Plus, rumblings.
  10. Manager Kevin Cash has led the Rays to back-to-back seasons of 90 or more victories. He finished third in the American League Manager of the Year voting in 2018 and is one of three finalists again this year with the winner being announced on Tuesday. DIRK SHADD  |  Times
    John Romano: His profile is as low as Tampa Bay’s payroll, but AL Manager of the Year candidate Kevin Cash consistently gets the most out of the Rays.