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Which Ray needs to step up during the next six weeks?

Tampa Bay has embarked on a stretch 34 games in 34 days and 47 in 48 days. Who needs to help save the day?
Rays center fielder Kevin Kiermaier, celebrating a three-run homer in the seventh inning against the Dodgers Wednesday, has now homered in three consecutive games, counting the inside-the park shot he had against Cleveland Thursday. [CHRIS URSO | Times]
Published May 24

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.


ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. The Rays posted this  message of appreciation on their Twitter account. RAYS BASEBALL  |  Twitter
    An ad in the Tampa Bay Times from the team and Twitter messages from players cap the season that included playoffs for the first time since 2013.
  2. Tampa Bay Rays leftfielder Tommy Pham (29) takes a moment in the dugout after the Rays' 6-2 loss to the Houston Astros in Game 1 of the American League Division Series. DIRK SHADD  |  Times
    Contract terms for every player currently on Tampa Bay’s roster.
  3. The Yankees' Gleyber Torres hits a home run off Astros starting pitcher Zack Greinke during the sixth inning in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series on Saturday, Oct. 12, 2019. SUE OGROCKI  |  AP
    The 22-year-old homers and has five RBIs, the youngest AL player to drive in that many in a postseason game in major-league history.
  4. Tampa Bay Rays centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier (39), right, and shortstop Willy Adames (1) celebrate the Rays 10-3 win over the Houston Astros in Game 3 of the American League Division Series at Tropicana Field. DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD  |  Times
    Rays Tales: Underdogs really do almost “shock the world,” and Kevin Cash deserves serious American League manager of the year consideration.
  5. Nationals starter Anibal Sanchez pitches during the eighth inning of Game 1 of the NL Championship Series against the Cardinals on Friday, Oct. 11, 2019. MARK HUMPHREY  |  AP
    Starter Anibal Sanchez has a no-hitter through 7 2/3 innings before giving up a clean single to center.
  6. Rays catcher Travis d'Arnaud and starting pitcher Tyler Glasnow walk back to the dugout after the Astros score four runs in the first inning of Game 5 of the American League Division Series on Thursday, Oct. 10, 2019. DIRK SHADD  |  Times
    Manager Kevin Cash says that wasn’t the main problem for the four-run first inning in Game 5 of the ALDS. It was the Astros’ hitters.
  7. The Tampa Bay Rays grounds crew works to remove the ALDS playoff logo along the first base line on the field at Tropicana Field on Friday. DIRK SHADD  |  Tampa Bay Times
    That’s what the team stresses as it faces an offseason with roster flexibility.
  8. Tampa Bay Rays manager Kevin Cash, on left, along with Erik Neander, center, senior vice president of baseball operations and general manager, and Chaim Bloom, senior vice president of baseball operations, address the media during a news conference at Tropicana Field on Friday. DIRK SHADD  |  Tampa Bay Times
    John Romano: And while they’re at it, find a consistent closer and a bat with some pop.
  9. Houston Astros players celebrate their 6-1 win over the Tampa Bay Rays in Game 5 of the American League Division Series Thursday, Oct. 10, 2019 in Houston. DIRK SHADD  |  Times
    Preparing for Rays steady steam of relievers was a significant challenge for Houston’s hitters.
  10. Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Tyler Glasnow (20) reacts after giving up a hit to Houston Astros center fielder George Springer (4) in the first inning in Game 5 of the American League Division Series Thursday, Oct. 10, 2019 in Houston. DIRK SHADD  |  Times
    Rays Journal: Did the Astros know what was coming during their four-run, first-inning explosion?
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