Rays Regroup After Elimination From the Division Race
|09.13.09 at 8:52 pm ET|
On Sept. 2, the Tampa Bay Rays remained convinced that they were one hot streak away from the postseason. And indeed, that might have been the case.
The reigning American League champs had just beaten the Red Sox in Tampa Bay to move within five games of Boston for the A.L. wild card lead. The team’s 72-60 record was the fifth-best in the A.L., superior to that of the Detroit Tigers.
But the roof of the Tropicana Dome caved in (figuratively, of course), starting the next night. Tampa Bay suffered a 6-3 loss to the Sox and Clay Buchholz that night, and from there, a spiral commenced that has yet to stop. Starting that night and running through Sunday, when they were swept in a doubleheader in Fenway Park, the Rays have lost 11 straight. Their offense has become feeble during that time, averaging 2.1 runs per game, in part due to the season-ending injury (a pair of broken fingers) suffered by A.L. home run leader Carlos Pena.
“It’s embarrassing,” said Rays starter James Shields.
And so, after they were swept, 4-0, in the nightcap, the Rays have been officially eliminated in the American League East race. The team technically remains in contention for the wild card, in which they now trail Boston by 11.5 games, but the fact that the team has already given away the division crown that it claimed with a 97-win season in 2008 served as a cause for remorse and reflection.
“People are going to look at this season at this particular juncture. There’s going to be a lot of false analyzing. The last two weeks have been tough, bad, horrid,” said Rays manager Joe Maddon. “Other than that, we had a bad April but we did catch up. We’ve just had a bad run right now that truly makes it look a lot worse than it is, or was. From our perspective, as we get into the wintertime, it’s going to be important and pertinent that we identify properly and put together for next year the team that’s going to win the division title, which I believe we will. Again, if you look at it right now, a know we’re a game over .500 and (have lost) 11 games in a row, but my goodness – 11 days ago we were in pretty good shape.”
The Rays seem puzzled by the sudden yanking of the carpet from underfoot. The team believed that its roster featured the sort of talent that should keep it in the race until the end of the year. And so, compared to the first 10 seasons in the franchise’s history when losing was a foregone conclusion, this run without success has left a deeper wound.
“Everybody in the clubhouse is feeling the pain,” said Rays third baseman Evan Longoria. “(But) I love the team. I love the guys we have here. I definitely think that we were capable of doing it and still capable of doing it. If the team stays the way that it is next year, I still think we have a pretty good chance.”
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