Cash on Rays’ dilemma; it’s a matter of execution

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – The beauty, or illogic of baseball, is the attempt to interpret when little or no explanation can be found. The current quandary facing the Tampa Bay Rays, one of the worst in their history, is as taxing as it is challenging.

Coming into one of the longest home stands of the season, the Rays were 14-18 and the four games below .500 is the most in five years. Numbers pretty much tell the story, and the math is not pretty.

Beginning with a three-game set with the Mets on May 3, the Rays were outscored by 26 runs during a 2-8 slump between April 21 and May 1. During that period, the Rays suffered their worst run differential over any 10-game span since mid-July, 2018. In their previous four games prior to the Mets series, the Rays were 1-for-21 with runners-in-scoring-position and their team batting average of .162 (21-for-130) since April 15 was 27th in the majors. Only the Pirates, A’s, and Blue Jays had a lower team batting average in this period.

All of which is quite apparent.

“The game is tough and we’re feeling it right now,” said manager Kevin Cash before the Mets’ series opener. “We are staying positive as a staff and supporting them. They need to stay positive within themselves. There is no doubt these guys are feeling frustrated and slumped shoulders. The reason they are doing that is they care and want to do better. Just continue to support them.”

Despite the lack of production in recent games, numbers for this team are deceiving. As a team, the Rays were hitting .238 and represent one point above the current American League. Yet, the major players which guide and represent as catalysts are woeful.

When leftfielder Randy Arozarena arrived at the Rays spring camp in Port Charlotte, he turned heads. Dedicated to the weight room for build-up and a goal for increased physical endurance, working this past winter to reach these goals did not help produce results.

Coming into the Mets’ series, Arozarena hit .139 (16-for-115) on the season, five extra-base hits and only nine RBIs. As a complement, consider the plight of first baseman Yandy Diaz.

As the reigning American League batting champion, Diaz, coming into the Mets series, was hitting .211 (26-for-123) and six extra-base hits. That average represents the lowest in his eight-year major league career.

“We just have to play better baseball,” outfielder Richie Palacious told Bally Sports after a recent 1-5 road trip. “We have to come together and produce. We’re trying hard, and sometimes, you try too hard. I’m not surprised by this, and these are good and amazing players. Even though we’re struggling right now, I’m not worried, and they’ll come out it.”

At this point, the Rays do not seek out Houdini or other magicians. They are not looking for a mystic, psychic, or palm reader. According to Cash, the solution is not terribly complicated.

“We have to execute better in all facets,” he said. That’s very fair and we need to make plays behind our pitchers and have good at-bats where we are able to move the ball when guys are moving toward second base, third base. Plus, we need to execute pitches.”

On the diamond … one game does not end a prolonged drought of misery. The Rays’ 10-8 victory over the New York Mets before 19,077 in Tropicana Field on May 3 felt more like a relief than a remedy. Powered by a 13-hit hit attack and a “feel-good” home run from Randy Arozarena in the fourth, the Rays manufactured a season-high 10 runs and recorded 13 hits for the third time this season. Along the way, Yandy Diaz went 2-for-5 and two RBIs, Jonny De Luca, recalled earlier in the day from Triple AAA Durham, contributed with three RBIs (1-for-4) and Arozarena reached base four times.

While the home run was significant for Arozarena and his protracted slump, his three walks were likely more important. That showed the kind of discipline at the plate that was lacking.

“This was a tough stretch,” he said through an interpreter. “I’m recognizing the pitches a little bit better and that’s a good thing. Everyone knows that I struggled at the beginning of the year, and you have to keep working. It’s a difficult game but as long as you keep your head up, I think the results will eventually come out.’

The victory tied Cash with Joe Maddon at 754 for the most wins by a manager in club history.

Welcome to The Show … on Saturday, the Rays face Mets’ right-hander Christian Scott, a Florida native and selected by New York in the fifth round in 2021 out of Florida State. At Triple AAA Syracuse, he posted a 3-0 record in five starts and a 3.20 ERA and makes his major league debut in Tropicana Field.

Asked if the criteria for his initial start might be five innings and 70 pitches, Scott, smiled, “I’ll go as long as they give me the ball.” He is opposed by righty Zack Littell (1-2, 3.27). The game is scheduled for a 7:15 p.m. start and that’s for national television on FOX. For the series finale on Sunday afternoon, look for the Rays to go with righty Ryan Pepiot (32-3.12) and righty Luis Severino (2-2, 2.31) goes for the Mets. The Tampa Bay home stand continues with three against the Chicago White Sox and concludes with three against the New York Yankees next weekend.

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