Challenging times for a proud and productive franchise

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. –  For the Tampa Bay Ray, the opening two months of the baseball season have been filled with frustration despair, gloom, and anguish. There have been little or no signs of a once mighty offense, effective starting pitching and dependable baseball acumen.

Instead, the weeks and hours for manager Kevin Cash, his players, and club decision-makers are replete with incomplete answers and the “why” segment of any scenario remains confusing and unanswered. The complement of reliable players, from Yandy Diaz, Randy Arozarena, Harold Ramirez, Jose Siri, and Isaac Paredes, have essentially “disappeared in action” and Cash has no explanation for why his once consistent players are now not so dependable.

While the Rays are currently reeling, the next 10 games will surely test their mettle. Between May 31 and June 10, the Rays engage the Baltimore Orioles in seven of a nine-game period. If Tampa Bay wants to regain its past glory and at least equal pre-season expectations, this is an ideal opportunity.

Coming into play May 31, the Orioles were 35-19 and just behind the AL East-division-leading New York Yankees. After 57 games, the Rays stood at 28-29, 8.5 games behind Baltimore and 10 down in the loss column to the O’s.

“For us, we take every game the same,” said Richie Palacios after he singled in the winning run in the 12th inning May 30 against Oakland. “(Baltimore is) a good team and we are a good team, too. We go out there and prepare like we always do and try to get success within that. Yeah, they’re a good team but we’re a good team, too.”

That may be politically-correct to say but the inconsistency to Cash and others must be difficult. With a walk-off win on May 30, the Rays played .500 baseball (9-9) at home for the month of May, including swept by Boston from May 20-22. In March/April, they managed an 8-9 mark in Tropicana Field

In the major categories of pitching and hitting, the Rays underachieved. In their opening 57 games, the team’s ERA was higher than the numbers facing the Rays. Here, the Tampa Bay pitching staff ERA was 4.25 and opponents’ ERA against the Rays was 3.43.

As a team, the club was hitting .234 and the opponents’ batting average against Tampa Bay was .242.

Despite winning back-to-back walk-off games on May 29 and 30, long periods of frustration and exasperation shadow this team like a bad dream.

“It’s frustrating to play this way but we also understand it’s a really long season,” said starter Zack Littell after this last start on May 28 against Oakland. “A month of really good baseball puts us right back in the thick of it. Not that we’re terribly far out right now, but we need to keep our heads up. Everybody in here is frustrated and everybody in here wants to play better baseball.”

To break this protracted period, one game or one week may not be a telling barometer. Perhaps Littell said it right when he pointed out a “month of good baseball” could help steer this team on its’ expected course.

Starting the recently completed home stand by dropping three straight to Boston and ending with two walk-off victories over the A’s may not be definitive. Given the current state of the team, Cash simply said after Palacios’ walk-off single on May 30, “we finished (the home stand) better than we started.”

Match-up at Camden Yards …  in the first of two consecutive weekend series with Baltimore, starters portray a noteworthy posture. All three Tampa Bay projected starters have losing records while all three Orioles starters have winning records. … In the series opener Friday night, look for Cash to give the ball to righty Aaron Civale (2-4, 5.72 ERA) and he is opposed by righthander Albert Suarez (2-0 1,.53). On Saturday, it’s righty Taj Bradley (1-2, 3.13) taking on righty Kyle Brandish (1-0, 1.75). For the finale Sunday afternoon, it’s righty Zack Littell (2-3, 3.03) facing lefty Cole Irvin (5-2, 2.84). Then, it’s on to Miami for two with the Marlins. The Rays return to Tropicana Field on Friday, June 7 and face the Orioles.

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