With a 15-23 record since the All-Star break, the Tampa Bay Rays are quickly moving themselves out of the playoff race.
Before the All-Star Break
Flashback to July 11th, Cory Dickerson was representing Tampa in his first All-Star appearance, and the Rays were looking like a viable playoff contender. At the break, the Rays were holding on to the final wildcard spot. They sat four games over .500 with a record of 47-43, and three and a half games back of the AL East-leading Boston Red Sox. Since then, the Rays have looked anything but formidable.
Since the All-Star Break
Fast forward to the end of August, the Rays lost another heart-breaker at home against the Toronto Blue Jays last night by a score of 7-6. They fell behind early as the Blue Jays jumped out to a five-run lead after two innings. Tampa Bay was able to battle back, scoring at least one run in each of the next five innings to tie the game at 6-6 after seven innings.
The bullpen came back to haunt the Rays again as relief pitcher Tommy Hunter gave up a solo home run to Kevin Pillar in the top of the eighth.
#Rays erase a 5-0 deficit but are outslugged by Toronto on Wednesday.
— Tampa Bay Rays (@RaysBaseball) August 24, 2017
This loss set the Rays record back to 62-66, only one game up on the Blue Jays, who are currently last place in the AL East. Tampa is now a full twelve games behind the Red Sox for the AL East lead and sit four games out of the final wild card position.
But how has it all gone so wrong so quickly for this Rays team?
What Has Changed?
Tampa Bay offensively, even before the All-Star break, have been a feast or famine bunch. If they hit home-runs they can score in bunches, if not they are likely to be shutout. The Rays desperately lack a small ball offensive attack to supplement their home-run power. This lack of ability to hit singles and keep runners moving around the base-paths has been blatantly obvious during their post-All-Star break slump.
Last nights loss to the Blue Jays was a prime example of the Rays’ small ball struggles. Tampa Bay scored four of their six runs off the long ball, but failed to capitalize in other run-scoring opportunities. The team hit just two for eight with runners in scoring position. As the clutch hit continues to escape Tampa Bay’s offense, the team’s postseason aspirations are also starting to slip away.
The other issue for the Rays has been their bullpen. Tampa made moves before the trade deadline to try to shore up this issue, bringing in players such as Sergio Romo, Steve Cishek and Dan Jennings, to help solidify the bridge from their starting pitchers to their closer Alex Colome. Even with these moves the bullpen still continues to let them down. In this month alone the bullpen has blown four leads leading to losses for the Rays. In a tight wildcard race where every win matters the Rays need to solidify the back end of their bullpen if they want to make a run.
Tampa Bay will be in action again this afternoon at 1:10 in a rubber match against the Blue Jays. Next up, the team will head out on the road for their next nine games against the Cardinals, Royals, and White Sox.