ST. PETERSBURG — Here’s an interesting thought this morning:
The Rays have lost 20 times through the first 55 games of the season. Pretty good, right? That puts them second in the American League East and gives them a fairly large lead in the wild-card standings.
How can you possibly complain about that?
Well, consider the Rays were either tied or in the lead in the sixth inning in 11 of those 20 losses. That means Tampa Bay (35-20) was in a decent position to win 46 of its first 55 games.
Second place doesn’t seem so hot anymore, huh?
The Rays lost another late game Friday night when Diego Castillo hit two batters in the ninth and the Twins’ Eddie Rosario later followed with a two-out, opposite-field single off Adam Kolarek to drive in two for a 5-3 Minnesota victory in front of an announced 14,375 at Tropicana Field.
Castillo and Jose Alvarado, Tampa Bay’s de facto closers, are now a combined 1-8 this season. There is no question about their talent, but their inability to consistently throw strikes has to be concerning.
“They’ve been fighting it a little bit, there’s no denying it,’’ manager Kevin Cash said. “They were so good for a month and a half, or whatever it was, and these last two weeks have crept up. It’s just a matter of simplifying it and executing pitch to pitch.
“But we’re going to rely on those guys to help us to continue to win games in whatever role it is.’’
The Rays knew coming into the season that the bullpen was inexperienced and maybe a tad thin. The first two months of the season haven’t done much to change that opinion.
With former All-Star Craig Kimbrel still on the open market and no longer in danger of costing a team a future draft pick as compensation, the next week could be an interesting one for the Rays.
Castillo got the Rays out of a minor jam in the eighth — after Alvarado walked C.J. Cron — but immediately got into trouble in the ninth, hitting Jonathan Schoop. After a sacrifice bunt and a groundout, the Rays intentionally walked Jorge Polanco, but then Castillo hit Willians Astudillo to load the bases.
Kolarek came in to face the left-handed hitting Rosario and essentially did his job. He got the Twins’ cleanup hitter to hit the ball on the ground, but it was to the opposite field and past third baseman Christian Arroyo.
“If it’s 2 feet in another direction,’’ Kolarek said, “we’ve probably already won the game by now or we’re still playing.’’
In some ways it was fortunate that the Rays were still in a position to win late. The Twins had nine hits through seven innings against three Tampa Bay pitchers.
The Rays, meanwhile, were virtually silent against Minnesota starter Jose Berrios, save for a Kevin Kiermaier two-run homer in the second. They squeaked out a run in the third on a double steal, with Austin Meadows scoring when the Twins tried to throw out Willy Adames at second.
Jalen Beeks, who took over in the third inning for opener Ryne Stanek, looked sharp his first time through the Twins lineup, but he couldn’t survive his second turn through the order. A leadoff walk cost him in the fifth as Polanco followed one batter later with an RBI double. The Twins tied it on an Astudillo RBI single.
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The injured list is still crowded for the Rays, and the games are starting to pile up.
They might have gotten catcher Mike Zunino back on Friday, but outfielders Tommy Pham and Avisail Garcia were both out of the lineup with sore legs.
“We knew this was going to be a taxing stretch,’’ Cash said. “(It’s) a lot on the body.’’