Doesn’t it seem like the Tampa Bay Rays just left Houston? You’re forgiven for the curious case of déjà vu, because the Rays and Houston Astros met for three games less than a week ago at Minute Maid Park. Now, the American League’s worst teams will tangle again for a chance to avoid a further dive into the standings’ dark depths.
That’s good news for the Rays, who need each grain of sugar they can get to counteract all their sour.
The past three days were more of the same for them. The most recent series against the Baltimore Orioles at Tropicana Field began well with a 5-4 victory on Monday. Then it was back to a cold, stiff reality: A 7-5 loss on Tuesday and a 2-0 defeat on Wednesday.
Their record: 28-45, the worst in the majors.
Their playoff odds: About the same as Greg Schiano winning a Super Bowl one day.
Enter the Astros, who are treading water with an 8-8 record in June. They represent more pillow than fight at 32-41 overall. But be real: No one, not even this American League West lightweight, can be considered a gimme for the Rays these days.
Yes, Tampa Bay won two of three games over Houston from last Friday to Sunday. Yes, the result marked the Rays’ first series victory since sweeping the Boston Red Sox from May 23-25. Yes, when you hear the name "Astros," visions of bleh baseball and large numbers in the loss column dance in your head.
Still, who knows what to expect anymore?
It’s interesting that the Rays began conducting spring-training-like drills this week. If only they could go back to those sweet, innocent hours once more.
Here’s a look at the upcoming Rays-Astros series …
SCHEDULE AND PROBABLE PITCHERS
Dexter Fowler (Astros): He hit .333 (9 for 27) with one home run and four RBI in six games from June 12-18. He had five multi-hit games in the span, including a 3-for-5 day in a victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks on June 12. He has hit .286 with five home runs and 23 RBI this season.
Evan Longoria (Rays): He hit .292 (7 for 24) with one home run and five RBI in six games from June 13-18. He had at least one hit in each game in the span, as part of a seven-game hitting streak from June 11-18. He has hit .265 with eight home runs and 32 RBI this season.
Robbie Grossman (Astros): He hit 0 for 14 in five games from June 12-18. The slump is part of a six-game hitless slide from June 10-18. He has hit .168 with two home runs and 11 RBI this season.
James Loney (Rays): He hit .160 (4 for 25) with four strikeouts in six games from June 13-18. He went hitless twice in the span, against the Astros on June 13 and Orioles on June 18. He has hit .274 with three home runs and 33 RBI this season.
5: Consecutive losses by Tampa Bay to Baltimore this season, before the Rays’ 5-4 victory on Monday at Tropicana Field. The win marked Tampa Bay’s fourth in its past five games, its best stretch since winning four consecutive games from May 22-25.
11: Runs allowed by left-hander Erik Bedard in four June starts, five of which came in a 7-5 loss to the Orioles on Tuesday at Tropicana Field. He has a 5.30 ERA in 18 2/3 innings in June, and he has failed to last beyond 4 2/3 innings in three of those appearances.
4: Times the Rays have been shut out in their last seven home games, after losing 2-0 to the Orioles on Wednesday at Tropicana Field. Tampa Bay has been shut out 11 times this season.
"We’re a better ballclub than we’ve shown to this point — there’s no question. How do we get to that level? It’s just going to take a lot of work … Ten-game homestand, I want to get a lot of work done now and try to get this thing back on track, because to wait until the All-Star break would be too late." — Manager Joe Maddon, before the Rays’ victory Monday. He spoke about how an increase in urgency is needed for Tampa Bay turn around its season, and Tuesday afternoon, the Rays participated in spring-training-like drills as part of an effort to sharpen their focus.
"I don’t want to do that again, so hopefully he doesn’t hit it there anymore." — Outfielder David DeJesus, after he collided with the left-field wall on Chris Davis’ grand slam in the Rays’ loss Tuesday. DeJesus avoided injury on the play.
"I think it’s been OK – not great, and that’s pretty much the way it’s been going for our whole team." — Second baseman Ben Zobrist, when assessing his defensive performance this season after the Rays’ loss Wednesday. He committed a fielding error in the fifth inning, his sixth this year after having five in all of 2013.
PROMOTIONS AND GIVEAWAYS
June 20 — District K-9 seating
June 20 — Tampa Bay Times Ticket Tandem — Rays Duffle Bag