Coming off their first series loss since early July, the Tampa Bay Rays quest for the playoffs doesn't look to get any easier as they visit the first-place Oakland Athletics for a three-game series.
Tampa Bay Rays second baseman Ben Zobrist (18) has hit .423 (11 for 26) with one home run and three RBI in six games from July 28-Aug. 3.
Kim Klement / USA TODAY Sports
By Andrew Astleford
The series streak is over. Plain and simple: The Tampa Bay Rays ran into an opponent that was sharper, more dangerous in the batter's box and more disciplined with its pitching this past weekend at Tropicana Field.
That's the bottom line, and there's no reason to dress up the deed now done.
Mike Scioscia's Los Angeles Angels own the majors' second-best record for a reason. The Rays, though hot since June 25, learned what the gap looks like between them and one of the American League's best. Los Angeles, for the most part, does the little things necessary to jump that line from average to excellent: A timely hit on offense; earning a crucial inning-ending groundout with the bases loaded on defense; icing the ninth inning with a closer, Huston Street, who has just one blown save in 31 tries this year.
For the first time since July 7-9, against the Kansas City Royals, the Rays lost a series. The Angels were better.
So Tampa Bay goes from a cauldron to the fire pit starting Monday. The Oakland Athletics own the majors' best record at 67-43 and boast an impressive 35-19 mark at O.co Coliseum. Fortunately for the Rays, the Toronto Blue Jays scuffled against the Houston Astros over the weekend, losing three consecutive games from Friday to Sunday. Tampa Bay stands five games back in the chase for the AL's second wild-card spot, a goal that remains doable as the early August schedule turns from hot to sizzling.
"We've turned into a really good road team," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "We're actually a better road team now than we are a home team. Let's take this show on the road and see what happens. ... The Angels are a good team. They got us. We played well. We've got to do a little bit better scoring that late when the opportunity presents itself. It's within our abilities. We have to get it done."
Here's a look at the upcoming Rays-Athletics series ...
August 5 (Sun Sports -- pregame coverage begins at 9:30 p.m.) Drew Smyly (6-9, 3.93 ERA) vs. Jason Hammel (8-9, 3.87 ERA)
August 6 (Sun Sports -- pregame coverage begins at 3:00 p.m.) Jeremy Hellickson (0-1, 3.29 ERA) vs. Sonny Gray (12-4, 2.59 ERA)
Ben Zobrist (Rays): He hit .423 (11 for 26) with one home run and three RBI in six games from July 28-Aug. 3. He had three multi-hit contests in the span, including a 4 for 5 day with one RBI in a victory over the Los Angeles Angels on Aug. 2. He has hit .279 with nine home runs and 32 RBI this season.
Josh Reddick (Athletics): He hit .400 (8 for 20) with four RBI in six games from July 28-Aug. 3. He had three multi-hit contests in the span, including a day when he went 3 for 4 in a loss to the Royals on Aug. 1. He has hit .259 with eight home runs and 31 RBI this season.
Kevin Kiermaier (Rays): He hit .118 (2 for 17) with three strikeouts in six games from July 28-Aug. 3. He went without a hit four times in the span. He has hit .294 with eight home runs and 25 RBI this season.
Stephen Vogt (Athletics): He hit .100 (2 for 20) with four strikeouts in five games from July 28-Aug. 3. He went hitless in four consecutive contests from July 29-Aug. 3 (he didn't play July 30). He has hit .327 with five home runs and 23 RBI this season.
3.93: ERA for left-hander Drew Smyly in 21 appearances (18 starts) this season. He's 6-9 with 89 strikeouts in a career-high 105 1/3 innings pitched this year. He's expected to make his Rays debut Tuesday.
Aug. 15: Date of the next time the Rays play at home, after a three-city road trip against the Athletics, Chicago Cubs and Texas Rangers that begins Monday. They open a six-game homestand against the New York Yankees and Detroit Tigers on this date.
July 7-9: The last time the Rays lost a series (against the Royals) before dropping two of three games against the Angels from Friday to Sunday at Tropicana Field. Sunday's game included a 19-minute delay because of a power outage caused by a lightning strike.
"There are no moral victories. That's a game we should not have permitted to get away." -- Maddon, after the Rays' 5-3 loss to the Angels on Friday at Tropicana Field. Tampa Bay loaded the bases with no outs in the bottom of the ninth inning against Street, but no runs were scored.
"Inside this locker room, we think we're capable of doing what we did (tonight) every night. What we did tonight, we're capable of doing that every night. C.J. Wilson is a good pitcher. He wasn't throwing cookies up there. He was executing pitches, and we were hitting them." -- Right-hander Chris Archer, when speaking about the Rays' offensive outburst in their 10-3 victory Saturday at Tropicana Field. They outhit the Angels 16-8 in the rout.
"It was a good pitch to hit. I was looking for something over the plate, and I should've done more. But I didn't." -- Outfielder Kevin Kiermaier, in explaining his inning-ending groundout with the bases loaded in the bottom of the seventh Sunday in a 7-5 loss to the Angels. The Rays trailed 5-0 after the first inning but couldn't finish the rally.