It’s a scheduling quirk that had to make Rays management say “uh-oh” when MLB laid out the 2019 slate. The Rays find themselves in the midst of 34 games in 34 days, and most of their opponents during that stretch will be teams in or contending for first place in their respective divisions. It’s the kind of stretch that can break a team — even a team 11 games over .500 — or define a positive march towards the postseason. Who needs to step to tilt the scales in favor of Tampa Bay? We convene a roundtable to get answers.
Calling on KK
Marc Topkin, Rays beat writer @TBTimes_Rays: Kevin Kiermaier. He has been talking the talk as a team leader, including being frank and even critical on occasion, and now would be a good time to walk the walk. His defense is a steady help, but his offense tends to be up and down. The ability to impact and disrupt a game with his speed is legit, and the Rays could use every edge they can get right now. A hot Kiermaier could make a big difference.
Sorry Cy Young winner, but we need more
John Romano, columnist @romano_tbtimes: First of all, Snell has pitched much better than his 3-4 record. Tampa Bay has scored two runs or less in six of his nine starts this season. So those sluggish numbers are not all his fault. But if the Rays have any hope of hanging with the Red Sox and Yankees this summer, they need Snell to pitch like a Cy Young Award winner again. He’s got to be the guy who stops losing streaks. He’s got to be the guy who beats opponents’ aces. He’s got to be the guy who wins two out of every three starts.
Don’t challenge the players, challenge the manager
Ernest Hooper, assistant sports editor, @hoop4you: Player going to play, pitchers going to pitch, but to get through this stretch, manager Kevin Cash has to push the right buttons. Pundits have credited the Rays’ success to the innovation of the opener, the quality of the pitching and the versatility of its Swiss army knife roster. Even Tommy Pham’s glare receives more attention than Cash’s managerial ability, but make not mistake, how he manages the relief staff, how he sets the lineup and how he maintains the emotion of the clubhouse will be critical during this stretch.
Capt. Kiermaier to the rescue
Mike Sherman, sports editor, @mikesherman: Kevin Kiermaier needs to keep stepping up. He’s on a nice mini roll, having hit in five straight games -- homering in three consecutive games -- going into tonight and atoning for a base-running blunder by gunning down a Dodger runner at the plate Wednesday. The Rays need a leader. Kiermaier keeps volunteering. You know where he can apply? On base.