ST. PETERSBURG – The Rays have to get better.
No matter that they have already booked 52 wins, and are on pace for 93. Nor that they lead the AL wild-card race, and are a good week in New York away from climbing back within sight of the division lead.
As they prepare to resume play Friday to open a four-games-in-45-hours weekend in Baltimore, manager Kevin Cash made it quite clear they have to step it up if they want to reach the postseason for the first time since 2013.
In part that’s their own doing, as since a 23-12 majors-best start they’ve been basically a .500 team for two months. And in part what their opponents have done, as the A’s, Indians, Rangers and Red Sox – especially they Red Sox - have all played their way into contention behind the first place Astros, Twins and Yankees.
“We’ve got to get going,’’ Cash before about 20 players took part in a voluntary workout prior to the flight north. “Knowing who’s in our division and in the rest of the American League, I don’t know if 93 gets you in. We’ve got to do something a little more special than that, even though that’s pretty good.’’
The Rays have to get offensive.
As much consternation and speculation as there has been about the bullpen after a string of blowups, the Rays still have the best pitching staff in the majors in terms of lowest ERA (3.32), OPS allowed (.655) and other metrics and measures.
One way to make it easier on the bullpen is to have bigger leads.
Getting the offense to be more productive, opportunistic and consistent is atop the list for post-break improvement as the Rays rank 16th in average (.254) and 19th in runs (415) and OPS (.748) overall. With runners in scoring position, they’re 22nd in average (.252) and 24th in OPS (.752).
“We’re capable of performing better offensively, being a little more consistent,’’ Cash said. “We’ve got to do a better job of hitting with runners in scoring position.’’
The Rays have to get healthy.
Injuries are always a factor, and while the Yankees can tell the whole league to hold their beer, the Rays have had their share.
Most impactful was the loss of starter Tyler Glasnow, who was among the AL’s best when he went down in early May with a forearm strain. He is slated for new imaging Monday, and a clean scan would allow him to resume throwing and potentially be back on the mound in August.
The Rays have patched it together well, with Yonny Chirinos stepping into the rotation, Jalen Beeks and Ryan Yarbrough working behind openers and rookie Brendan McKay making an encouraging first two starts. But McKay’s innings will be watched closely, and Cash was talking Thursday about workload concerns with Charlie Morton and Blake Snell, so Glasnow’s return would be huge.
The Rays will get Ji-Man Choi back this weekend and All-Star second baseman Brandon Lowe by the middle or end of next week. There’s the potential for more help as infielder Matt Duffy is moving, yes, finally, toward a return from his season-long hamstring issue. Adding Duffy in the next few weeks would be like acquiring a proven hitter, and with more of a needed grind-it-out style.
The Rays have to get reinforcements.
Cash is right about the potential for the offense to improve, and that can come with more production, or more consistency anyway, from veterans such as Tommy Pham, Avisail Garcia and Mike Zunino. Though adding a power bat to pop in the middle of the order, say like a Jose Abreu, would be a good boost.
But the bullpen needs help. The Rays will try and cover the late innings in their mix and match style, using Emilio Pagan, Diego Castillo, maybe rookie Colin Poche and a handful of others. And they can hope that Chaz Roe and/or Jose Alvarado can return from injuries more effective than they had been. But the real improvement will have to come from the outside, with a reliever, and maybe two, who has been there and done that.
The Rays have to get help.
The Yankees hardly ever seem to lose, and the Rays’ last chance to close what is now a 6½-game gap on their own is next week’s four-game series. After that, they don’t play them again until Sept. 24-25, the final week of the season.
But the bigger concern may be who’s lurking behind them.
After spending much of two months around .500, the Indians went on a 21-8 tear and are only a half-game behind the Rays in the wild-card race. Sputtering at 19-25 through mid-May, the A’s went 31-16 and are just two games back. And after their World Series hangover 6-13 start, the Red Sox reminded they can’t be written off with a 43-28 run that has them within 2½ games. The Rays figure they can get hot again, but they need some of these teams to get cooled off.
Contact Marc Topkin at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.