MINNEAPOLIS — On Monday, the Rays rested.
In the midst of unquestionably the most difficult part of their schedule thus far, the Rays enjoyed their first off day in three weeks in Minneapolis before a three-game series against the Twins at Target Field begins Tuesday.
They just played 21 games in 20 days — including a doubleheader in Boston on June 8 — and after Monday, they play 13 consecutive days leading into the all-star break, completing a stretch of 34 games in 34 days and 47 games in 48 days going back to May 21.
“They want it,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “Everybody wants it here. Probably can pick your own friends for a day, not have to look at everybody. Just to sit back and relax and regroup a little bit. Hopefully, we take some positives. We know a lot of things haven’t gone our way lately. The guys recognize that, but we’re still in a very good spot. We’ve got to continue to fight through it and turn things around.”
The Rays are just 10-11 since that last off day, and even with Sunday’s 8-2 win over the A’s to salvage a series sweep, the Rays are 4-9 over their past 13 games, which is their worst stretch in more than a year.
Rays catcher/first baseman Travis d’Arnaud said Monday’s off day is welcome, especially coming off Sunday’s win.
“It’s big having this momentum going into an off day against the Twins, who are playing really well,” d’Arnaud said. “It will be a nice relaxing time and be able to have a nice reset.”
While the Rays (45-33) still own the first AL wild-card spot, they have lost 2 1/2 games on the first-place Yankees since their last off day, and their lead on the second wild-card position shrunk by 2 1/2 games. They lead the Indians by 2 1/2 games.
They are averaging 4.4 runs a game over their last 21 contests, but just 3.7 over their last 13. Their nine homers over that stretch are the second fewest in baseball. Rays starting pitchers own a 5.21 ERA over the last 13 games.
First-half fatigue may be setting in, but Cash has worked to find players days off, realizing that no one is 100 percent physically at this point in the season.
Over this stretch, the Rays bullpen has logged 92 2/3 innings, more than any team in baseball. Even though the opener strategy contributes heavily to that number, there’s no question the bullpen has been stretched thin.
Players realize this has been a difficult stretch. Their current road trip — which has taken them from New York cross-country to Oakland with no travel day and now to Minnesota — has been grueling. They’re just 2-5 on the trip, and would need to swee the Twins to prevent a losing record on the trip.
But inside the Rays clubhouse, players would prefer to go through this difficult stretch now than later in the season.
“I feel like you have to scuffle to know what it’s like to succeed,” said Rays left-hander Blake Snell, who will start Tuesday’s series opener against the Twins. “And we started off really good and we did really well. To me, to scuffle is a good thing, because it’s not going to be easy down the stretch. It’s not going to be easy in the playoffs if that’s where we end up going.
“You’re going to scuffle, you’re going to battle and you’re going to have to fight. So it’s a good thing. It’s us learning who we are as a team and what we can actually do and get out of it and be a winning team.”
It doesn’t get much easier for the Rays leading into the break. Their Minnesota series begins a stretch of 13 games in 13 days. After playing the Twins, who currently own the best record in the AL at 50-27, the Rays return home for a homestand that includes a Rangers team that enters Monday six games above .500 (42-36) and then four games against a Yankees team the Rays have dropped seven of nine to this season.
Contact Eduardo A. Encina at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @EddieInTheYard.