BOSTON — In talking about his majors-best Rays during the first few weeks of the season, manager Kevin Cash would make a point pretty much every day to say, as if he wanted to be sure people heard him, that their success was due, in part, to having a lot of things go their way.
Because now little is.
As the Rays stroll into Fenway Park on Friday with revenge on their minds for last weekend’s sweep at the Trop, they face greater challenges than just facing the defending champs.
Consider they have:
• Two of their top left-handed hitters, Austin Meadows and Joey Wendle, sidelined for extended periods due to injury, and hope a third, Ji-Man Choi, is ready to play after being idled the past week.
• Ace Blake Snell sitting out the series after returning unimpressively in Wednesday’s loss from a toe broken in a freak bathroom accident that shelved him for 10 days.
• One of their top returning relievers, multi-inning man Ryan Yarbrough, demoted to the minors, with a couple of others who starred last year now struggling.
• Losses in five of their past seven games, which not only rattled their own confidence a bit, but, maybe even more concerning, revved up the struggling Red Sox’s efforts to get back in the AL East race.
“With what we were doing the first homestand of the year and the first road trip (going 12-4 overall), not a whole lot went wrong, to be honest,” centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier said. “Every time I talk I’m always trying to be realistic, and that’s just not the way baseball goes.
“We knew sooner or later we were going to be tested. We didn’t know in what way, or how. Now we face a little bit of adversity, losing some tough games, losing a couple key players. And it’s back to reality.”
That reality seemed somewhat grim as the Rays — who, of some consolation, still have the majors’ best record at 16-9 — packed after Wednesday’s mess of a 10-2 loss to Kansas City, having just heard that Wendle had a fractured right wrist that could keep him out a month, or maybe close to two, joining Meadows, who is out into mid-May with a thumb sprain.
“It’s rough when you think about how good both those players are, how much they help this team win,” Snell said.
“With what Meadows has been doing, he’s unreal. And with what Joey would be doing if he didn’t have two bad breaks, with the hamstring (strain, that forced him to miss 17 games) and the actual break in his wrist. You know how good he is, and it sucks knowing that we’ve got to wait another three to six weeks, however long it takes, to get him back in our lineup.
“So it’s definitely frustrating. … Just two bad breaks, honestly. And we can’t get a break.”
The depth the Rays made a priority to accumulate is being severely tested, with Avisail Garcia and Daniel Robertson getting more playing time in the absence of Meadows and Wendle, and Christian Arroyo being called up.
“Injuries are a part of the game, and the good news is we have a ton of depth,” outfielder Tommy Pham said. “Now it’s just someone else’s turn.”
Added Snell: “For us to have the best record in baseball as of right now with what we’ve gone through, it’s a good sign. To have depth like we do, it’s going to pay off a lot, especially down the road.”
This storm of adversity comes at a bad time. After leaving Boston the Rays soon open a treacherous portion of their schedule, with back-to-back weekend series with the second-place Yankees, then a stretch of 33 games in 34 days, and 46 in 48 leading up to the early July All-Star break.
Snell would like to think they’ve gotten their run of misfortune out of the way now.
“Hope so,” he said, “because we really hit it.”
But first, the Red Sox, who won the three games at the Trop by a total of four runs, and at Fenway, where the Rays haven’t had a winning record since Cash’s first season in 2015 and are 69-117 overall.
“A lot of us were very bitter after this past weekend, coming up on the short end of the stick three games in a row,” Kiermaier said. “We know what we want to accomplish this weekend. We want to get back at them. They play good baseball. We definitely had our chances that we didn’t take advantage of, but that’s baseball sometimes. … Definitely we want to go up there and beat them at their place and win a series, and try to do the same thing they did to us. We want to win all three. We have the talent. We have the guys to do it.
“It’ll be a big test for us. It’s an important series for us getting revenge and proving to ourselves we can still beat the best teams in baseball. And we will.”
Contact Marc Topkin at [email protected]. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.