ST. PETERSBURG — Blake Snell stepped up when he had to Monday and delivered an impressive career-high seven-plus innings for the Rays. That it wasn't enough in what ended up a 5-0 loss to the Orioles that was their season-high fifth straight is symptomatic of the mess they are in right now.
Adding to their woes were catcher Wilson Ramos leaving the game after being hit on the head by a broken bat and needing six staples to close the gash; the offense remaining somewhat somnolent in its fifth blanking of the season; and a costly baserunning mistake by Tim Beckham.
And that, coming off the miserable weekend of three straight come-from-ahead losses to the Rangers as they dropped to 51-49 overall.
"As this little bit of a funk here goes, we've got to find a way to get ourselves out of it," manager Kevin Cash said, "and come to the ballpark the next day ready to win."
Sooooooo, is there still reason for optimism?
Certainly in what Snell did, having gotten notably not just into the sixth then the seventh but two batters into the eighth.
"I'm happy about that," Snell said. "Wish we could have come out with the win, but there were a lot of positives to take from it."
That would be in how he did it, being aggressive with his fastball early to set up his offspeed stuff later, improving his strike-throwing (69 of 109, for 63.3 percent) by moving from the third-base side of the rubber across the middle, quickening his tempo and gaining confidence as he went, starting with stranding Adam Jones at third in the first.
"In a lot of ways I can see that what everyone is telling me works, and it's true," Snell said. "I've just got to keep at it and keep going."
Other reasons to be encouraged?
• Amid all the frustration, there is still plenty of confidence in the clubhouse, a sense that they have a good enough team — offense, starting pitching, tightened defense, improving bullpen — to stay in the race. "We have all the belief in the world in here that things will come together," veteran third baseman Evan Longoria said before the game. "We'll win a game again. I promise you that, we'll win another one."
• There are still 62 games to play. Even after losing five straight, the Rays remain one game back in the American League wild-card race and within 4½ of first in the American League East. Remember, in 2011, they were nine games out of a playoff spot — in September — and ended up making the playoffs, albeit with a wee bit of Game 162 drama. And in 2013, they had a 4-13 slump late in the season — from Aug. 25-Sept. 11 — and also made it, although needing to win Game 163 to do so.
• Though a longer skid conceivably could change things, the front office to this point is still working hard — feverishly, we're told — to buy, seeking to address their two biggest deficiencies, a dominant reliever — beyond Sergio Romo, who was picked up off the DFA discard pile — and a hitter, likely right-handed, to further boost the offense. "Constant conversation, constant thought on how to make us better in different areas of our club," Cash said. "They're working really hard. It doesn't just come together at the snap of a finger as we all know."
But Monday's play was another reason to be concerned. Shut down again by the mighty (against them) Kevin Gausman, they couldn't get much going. Overall they were 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position, most glaringly failing to get Mallex Smith home after a leadoff triple in the fifth. And Beckham killed a rally in the seventh when he was doubled off first.
As much as several of the losses during the five-game skid were on the bullpen, Cash said the cure is with the offense. "The big hit is probably eluding us right now," he said.
Other reasons to be discouraged:
• The rotation, despite going into play with a 3.96 ERA that ranks second in the league, is not as deep as it appears. Chris Archer and Alex Cobb have been sturdy, though not yet in that David Price-James Shields class that Archer mentioned last week. But Jake Odorizzi's consistent inconsistency has become a major concern, Snell has to prove he can do what he did Monday more frequently and the Rays have to hope it was just a bad inning, or a bad afternoon, for rookie Jake Faria last time out and not the beginning of a bad turn.
• The schedule gets brutal. After finishing with the Orioles, the Rays play their next five series — 17 games — against teams with better records. That's four at the Yankees leading into the trading deadline and four at the AL-best Astros, then visits from the Brewers, East-leading Red Sox and Central-leading Indians.
• Teams the Rays are competing with for the division title and the wild cards have already made deals to get better, including the Mariners, Royals, Twins and Yankees. And in doing so, they have added several relievers, thinning the options. The Rays — to this point — have only added Romo.
• Some of the hot bats that carried the Rays through the first half have been quite cold, such as Corey Dickerson, hitting .189 with four RBIs over his past 20 games, and Logan Morrison, hitting .140 with four RBIs over his past 13.
Marc Topkin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.