Tampa Bay is back to playing like the Devil Rays, and that’s not a tradition any club would be intent on embracing.
In the midst of its worst skid since 2009, the team will look to avoid a 10th straight loss Thursday when it hosts the Miami Marlins to conclude a four-game, home-and-home set.
The Rays are mired in their longest losing streak since dropping 11 in a row from Sept. 3-13, 2009. That year, however, they still finished 84-78. A similar conclusion to this season seems unlikely.
Now 14 games under .500, Tampa Bay (23-37) has stumbled to its lowest point since 2007 – when it ended the season 30 games under the break-even mark before proceeding to take the "Devil" out of its nickname. Success immediately followed and the Rays have since averaged 92 wins per season, yet they currently find themselves with the worst record in the American League.
Just when it seemed things couldn’t get any worse, players found out following Wednesday night’s 5-4 loss that longtime baseball icon Don Zimmer — who had been an advisor and coach for the Rays since 2004 — died at age 83.
"Zim was a great man, and there are no words to explain what he brought to us and what he meant to me. It’s just been a rough go for us, and this kind of is the icing on the cake, so to speak," said Evan Longoria. "I know that he would want us to continue on and just honor him by doing all the things that he preached to us, playing the game the right way and playing the game hard."
Tampa has done anything but play the right way over the last week and a half. Despite getting solid pitching Wednesday night from David Price, who struck out 11 and allowed just one earned run, the team was sloppy in the field, made a questionable baserunning decision at a critical time and continued to struggle at the plate with men on base.
A two-out error by Longoria in the third inning led to an eventual game-deciding three-run homer by Donovan Solano, Kevin Kiermaier choose to hold at third base with one out in the ninth on an infield chopper in a one-run game and the Rays hit into three double plays while extending a fruitless stretch to 0 for 31 with runners in scoring position.
With one more loss, Tampa will match the majors’ longest losing streak this season, held by Boston from May 15-25. Coincidentally, the Rays inflicted the Red Sox with their final three defeats of that stretch, and have yet to win since.
Jake Odorizzi (2-5, 5.13 ERA), who was the starter in that last victory, will take the hill Thursday. The right-hander followed an impressive performance against Boston — in which he gave up one run in six innings but did not receive a decision — by allowing five runs over 3 1/3 innings Saturday night en route to a 7-1 loss at Fenway Park
Miami has bounced back nicely from a sweep at the hands of Atlanta last weekend. The Marlins (31-28) have since won three straight while the Braves have lost their last two, leaving the surprising club with a chance to leave Tampa tied for first in the NL East.
However, starter Jacob Turner (1-3, 5.59) has just one win in his last 19 starts, a span that has seen him go 1-10. The right-hander followed up that lone victory by allowing five runs over five innings in Saturday’s 9-5 loss to Atlanta.