ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays aren’t going to change the players they’ve been using, mostly unsuccessfully so far, in trying to score against the Astros.
In the two ALDS losses that put them on the brink of elimination, the Rays have scored only three (none against starters Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole) while hitting .177 (11-for-62) with just two extra-base hits and 27 strikeouts.
But they do need to change how they’ve been playing, or they won’t be playing anymore.
“We’ve just got to do a little bit better job putting the ball in play,’’ manager Kevin Cash said. “A lot of strikeouts, for good reason. … Still, we’ve got good hitters, and if we start putting some baseballs in play, I think we can start putting some pressure (on the Astros) and getting the offense rolling a little bit.
“So far, it’s just been so many strikeouts because of the power that they have.’’
Not that there are many options, but Cash seems likely to use pretty much the same lineup against Monday’s starter Zack Greinke as he did in Game 2 Saturday, with Yandy Diaz playing third and lefties Joey Wendle and Eric Sogard on the bench.
“We’re going to have to get the big hit when guys are on base,’’ Cash said after that loss. “Right now, they’re not letting many guys get on base.’’
The Rays obviously face a tall task in having to beat the majors-best Astros three in a row, though it’s worth noting that was how they opened the season, losing opening day, then winning three straight over Houston. After losing twice in loud and frenzied Minute Maid Park, the Rays feel they have two things in their favor: Their 15-2 run to finish their home schedule 48-33, including 10 walkoff wins, and an expected sellout crowd of about 35,000, with the Trop upper deck reopened. “Houston’s really good, but their crowd certainly played a role, played a factor in creating the momentum, the energy,’’ Cash said. “Our fans are going to do that for us. We’re confident in that. Looking forward to walking out on the field and hearing the applause that the guys are going to get, the appreciation for how they played, and hopefully whether it’s cowbells, white flags, whatever it is, maintain it for nine innings.’’
Greinke’s Trop woes
Greinke doesn’t come across as the most fun-loving guy anyway, and his past experiences at the Trop have been pretty miserable.
In five career starts, the Apopka High product is 0-4, 4.45, which makes it arguably his worst stadium to pitch in, which he hasn’t done so since 2010. After a 2009 start at the Trop, he said “(The Rays’) PR department promotes the game like it’s a club and not a baseball game. It almost doesn’t feel like you’re playing baseball when you’re playing here. They do stupid music stuff. They have dancers everywhere, they have a DJ. They just do a bunch of stupid stuff that isn’t baseball.’’
In Sunday’s interview room session, Greinke answered seven questions in a total of 39 words.
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Talking a good game
Two themes from the Rays interviews::
• They feel the resiliency they showed all season in dealing with injuries and tough losses and coming back repeatedly to win games will pay off. “There’s just no quit in this team,’’ infielder Brandon Lowe said.
• They are aware, and will make sure the whole relatively young team is on board, not to look at the task as winning three straight from the Astros, but one game at a time. “They’ve done a better job of staying within the moment,’’ Cash said. “”The last thing we can do against a team as good as them is focus on (Games) 4 and 5. We need to focus on (Game) 3. They’re going to do that.’’
Of the 50 teams that lost the first two games of a best-of-five postseason series on the road, only seven came back to win the series, most recently the 2017 Yankees against Cleveland. … This is the third time the Rays have fallen behind 2-0 in a best-of-five, and both times (last in 2013) they won Game 3 and were eliminated in Game 4. … The Rays are 6-4 when facing elimination in postseason play. They have played six postseason series and have never been swept.
Homecoming for Astros’ Tucker
At least a small contingent at the Trop on Monday will be supporting the Astros’ Kyle Tucker, a Tampa native and Plant High product. Tucker, 22, made his MLB debut with the Astros in 2018, then spent most of 2019 in Triple A. He returned to the Astros on Sept. 2 and got the start in rightfield Saturday, going 0-for-3. He has never played at the Trop. “It’ll be a pretty fun game, and we’ll have my little section out here,” Tucker said. His brother Preston, also a pro baseball player and former Plant and Florida standout, is traveling from the other side of the world to see him. “He played in South Korea this year. He took a little vacation in Thailand, so he flies in Monday night.” Preston will miss Game 3, but if the Rays win, he will see his brother play Tuesday in Game 4.
• The Rays landed in Tampa around 4:45 Sunday morning, needing two planes to accommodate a traveling party that grew to more than 200, with players, staff and families, during the trek from Toronto to Oakland to Houston.
• The Rays had an extremely voluntary workout Sunday, and only three of the 25 players on the ALDS roster were on the field: pitchers Oliver Drake, Charlie Morton and Colin Poche. Infielder Brandon Lowe received treatment from the athletic trainers. The Astros, who flew to Tampa on Sunday, went through pretty much a full workout.
• There was a brief simulated game among Rays not on the active roster, with Pete Fairbanks and Andrew Kittredge throwing to Mike Brosseau, Nate Lowe and Daniel Robertson. Though the Rays took all 39 players active at the end of the regular season to Oakland and Houston, that group is being thinned, with pitchers Anthony Banda and Jose De Leon told their seasons are over.
• The MLB Network crew covering Monday’s game includes Bob Costas, Jim Kaat, Joe Girardi, Kelly Nash and Tom Verducci.
Times staff writer Ryan Kolakowski contributed to this report.