After the first week, the Rays fall uncharacteristically under .500

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -. Just one week into the season, there are, at this point, no defining trends or developments. Then again, that depends on who is reading the tea leaves.

In regard to the Tampa Bay Rays, principals are looking for those elusive “crooked numbers.” That would be innings in which multiple runs are scored and place a clear stamp on the potential outcome. After the first week, runs have come in isolated bunches and not enough to sustain the Rays’ penchant for scoring and remain competitive in a very competitive American League East Division.

Over their seven games to date, the Rays’ ability to put up those numbers has been elusive. Against their reputation, the Rays fell under .500 and that was a result of a 4-1 defeat to the Texas Rangers Wednesday afternoon before 18,881 in Tropicana Field. The loss dropped the Rays to 3-4 and now they embark on their initial road trip of the season.

The loss on Wednesday magnified early-season maladies. Destined as a team to score, the Rays’ bats have been silent. In closing their initial home stand of the season by dropping four of the seven games, the team managed to score 45 runs in those seven games. That averages 6.42 runs per game.

That number, however, is deceiving and that’s because the Rays scored five or more in only two of the seven contests. Plus, in the 56 total innings of those games, they managed to put up more than one run in any inning only five times.

That “crooked number” syndrome has proven to be both uneasy and atypical.

“The best is the first week is over,” said manager Kevin Cash after Wednesday’s game. “I try not to put too much judgment and in such a six, seven-game stretch. I like some things we did, and I think we can improve on some other things. I’m guessing most teams are saying that right now.”

In the absence of a sustained defense, starting pitching for Tampa Bay has been creditable.

After shaky opening day loss to Toronto, Zach Eflin rebounded with a solid win over the defending world champion Rangers, and Aaron Civale, brought over from Cleveland during a July 31 trade last year, has adjusted. In his initial two starts for 2024, he’s 1-1 but sports a 1.50 ERA.

On Wednesday against Texas, he left trailing 1-0 after six innings and the only run was a homer from Corey Seager to lead off the sixth inning.

“Early on, I felt was not commanding the ball I wanted, but stayed with it,” Civale said. “Just went out and attacked. Not any patterns right now. Just going inning-by inning and then pitch-by-pitch and whatever is feeling good that day.”

Should there be a redeeming value in the Rays’ lack of offense, these days, they are facing the Rockies’ pitching staff which has been less than productive. In their first six games, the Rockies’ team ERA is 8.08 and given the unpredictable conditions which is Corrs Field, this is an opportunity for the Tampa Bay bats to get well in a hurry.

“It’s probably the perfect time to get on the road and get the season underway to way we want,” Cash added. ”We’ve done all right, and hanging in here. It’s been a unique homestand where we knocked the cover off the ball and then go quiet. It’s been back and forth like every day.”

Perhaps now is the time to get consistent offensively and anticipate the potentially lethal bats come alive.

In the trainer’s room … Second baseman Brandon Lowe left Wednesday’s game after the fifth inning with left-side tightness. He is considered day-to-day.

After the game, manager Kevin Cash said it was his decision to remove Lowe. With a day off Thursday and the probability of facing Austin Gomber, a lefty to open the Rockies’ series, the left-handed hitting Lowe will rest for the next few days.

Turning the calendar  … beginning Friday in Denver against the Rockies, the Rays now engage in 14 of their next 16 series against clubs that missed the 2023 post-season. The only two series in which Tampa Bay will face of post-season opponent is against Milwaukee (April 29-May 1) and Toronto (May 17-19). Five of the 16 series will come against teams that finished last in their division.

First stop … the Rays open their initial road trip of the season with three against the Rockies in Denver. This is the first time since 2016 that Tampa Bay played in the Mile High City. Though the teams engage infrequently, there remains a sense of familiarity.

“Our scouting department does a pretty good job of getting reports,” said righthander Zack Littell, who will start the opener in Corrs Field on Friday night, “I approach this the same and my strengths are y strengths. You will have to pitch that way regardless.”

While pitching for the Giants, Littell saw the Rockies often.

“I’m familiar with many over there,” he said. “Guys like (Ryan) McMahon, (Charlie) Blackmon, and played with Kris Bryant in San Francisco. Yeah, I guess I know a few.”

The series continues Saturday and Sunday against the Rox and then concludes with four against the Angels in Anaheim. The Rays return to Tropicana Field for a seven-game home stand and that begins on Friday April 12 against the Giants.

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