Recent Rays history shows current 54-game struggle is rare

A third of the way through their season, the Tampa Bay Rays are going through a start which hasn't been seen since the years when Devil was still part of their nickname.

Manager Joe Maddon has found victories to be harder to come by this season.

Joe Nicholson / USA TODAY Sports

This feeling is unfamiliar.

In five of six seasons since 2008, the one-third mark has included healthy returns for the Tampa Bay Rays: A winning record, manageable positioning within the American League East and the potential to live postseason visions.

Not so much this year -- so far.

The Rays, after the Toronto Blue Jays swept them in a three-game series that ended Wednesday at Rogers Centre, are 23-31 and staring at a nine-game deficit in the division. It's their second-worst start since manager Joe Maddon took over before the 2006 season. Only the '06 campaign's 22-32 stumble from Opening Day is worse.

"This is when you learn something about yourself," Maddon said recently.

"I think our tendency in this country, in general, is the fact that you give up too soon. For me and for us, I really believe in these guys."

Want perspective of how strange early struggle has become for the Rays? Here's a closer look at the 54-game starts they have experienced under Maddon, with further analysis of how those summers are remembered.

2006 DEVIL RAYS (61-101)

Record through 54 games: 22-32

What they did early: Following a three-game winning streak from April 14-16, they enjoyed a record better than .500 through 13 games (7-6). Then the season turned sour. They went without consecutive victories again until winning two straight from May 10-12 to improve to 15-21. A four-game winning streak from May 18-21 raised their mark to 20-24, but they lost eight of their next nine to fall to 11 games worse than .500 after play May 31.

How they ended: Losing, losing and more losing. There's a reason Maddon's progress with the franchise is notable. After all, the beginning was so bad. The Devil Rays finished May at 21-32, and the season was lost by July's end, when they were 44-62.

2007 DEVIL RAYS (66-96)

Record through 54 games: 23-31

What they did early: They had a brief taste of life above .500, when they were 2-1 after play April 6. That was it, though. They closed April at 11-14 and lost six consecutive games from May 6-12 to fall to 14-22. They won four straight from May 13-17 to rise to 18-22, but they lost five consecutive from there.

How they ended: Logical minds would have considered the season over by June. The Devil Rays were 22-29 after play May 30, already 13 1/2 games back of the streaking Boston Red Sox in the American League East. Tampa Bay began July at 33-46 and August at 40-66. From there, it was a slow crawl to the offseason.

2008 RAYS (97-65)

Record through 54 games: 32-22

What they did early: New name, new attitude, new start. The Rays floundered near .500 for their first 19 games before winning six consecutive from April 22-27to improve to 14-11. They produced another six-game winning streak from May 8-13 to rise to 23-16. They stayed at least six games better than .500 from there.

How they ended: It kept getting better: A 34-22 record at May's end, 50-32 after play in June, 63-44 after play in July and 84-51 after play in August. They accomplished ceiling-breaking franchise marks: The first playoff berth, the first AL East title, the first AL pennant. Though the World Series ended in a five-game loss to the Philadelphia Phillies, the Rays had created a new reputation. At last, they were known for winning.

2009 RAYS (84-78)

Record through 54 games: 26-28

What they did early: The early spark from the previous year was gone. The Rays weren't bad, but they weren't great either. They finished April at 9-14 and climbed to 23-22 on May 23. However, they lost five consecutive games from May 24-28 before winning six of seven from May 29-June 6 to improve to 29-28.

How they ended: At 44-35, they were just four games back of the Red Sox at June's end. Things looked manageable at the end of July, when they were six games behind the New York Yankees at 56-47. But the real buzzkill came in September, when they lost 13 of 14 from Sept. 3-16 to fall to 73-73. No playoffs.

2010 RAYS (96-66)

Record through 54 games: 36-18

What they did early: They were hot from the start. They split their first six games before reeling off seven consecutive victories from April 12-19. They also won five straight from April 24-29 and from May 2-7 to rise to 22-7. There was no looking back from there.

How they ended: Much like they began. They closed June at 45-32 and were 64-39 at July's end, then 81-51 at the end of August. The 2008 team reached the World Series, but this was Maddon's most dominant squad. Like the '08 group, this team won the AL East. But unlike the '08 group, this postseason ended with a thud. The Rays' season closed with a five-game loss to the Texas Rangers in the AL Division Series. What could have been?

2011 RAYS (91-71)

Record through 54 games: 29-25

What they did early: It couldn't have begun worse. They lost their first six games on their way to a 1-8 start. But then they burned through the rest of April to reach 14-11 on April 28. They also won seven of eight games from May 5-13 to improve to 23-15.

How they ended: They were close in the AL East race at June's end, when they trailed the Yankees by 3 ½ games with a 45-36 record. By the close of July, they were 56-51 before a 10-2 stretch from Aug. 8-21 helped lift them to a 74-61 mark to start September. They earned their second consecutive playoff berth but lost in four games to the Rangers in the ALDS.

2012 RAYS (90-72)

Record through 54 games: 31-23

What they did early: They split their first 14 games before going on a tear and winning 12 of 13 from April 21-May 4. They lost six of seven from May 5-12 to drop to 20-14 before stabilizing by the month's end. Entering June they were 29-22, good for a tie with the Baltimore Orioles for first place in the AL East.

How they ended: They were average most of the summer. They were 41-37 after play in June and 54-50 at July's end. But a 14-3 run from Aug. 7-23 lifted them to 70-55 on their way to closing August at 71-61. They won at least 90 games for the fourth time in five years, but they missed the playoffs after finishing third in the AL East behind the Yankees and Orioles.

2013 RAYS (92-71)

Record through 54 games: 30-24

What they did early: They started 3-2 but dropped eight of their next 10 games from April 7-18. They closed April at 12-14 and fell to 14-18 before winning nine of 11 from May 8-19. They ended the month on a six-game winning streak, from May 26-31, to reach the season's one-third mark.

How they ended: They were 43-39 after play in June before taking advantage of light competition in July to close that month at 64-44. They lost eight of 10 games from July 31-Aug. 13 to begin a cool-down that included a 4-13 slide from Aug. 25-Sept. 11. They recovered to win nine of 11 games from Sept. 20-30 to clinch a spot in the AL wild-card game, where they beat the Cleveland Indians on Oct. 2 at Progressive Field. They lost in four games to the Red Sox in the ALDS.

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