Evan Longoria was dressed in his hippie best Sunday evening, prepared to take part in a Woodstock-themed trip to the West Coast in a sight that has made the Tampa Bay Rays unique and consistent for so many years under manager Joe Maddon. But this light-hearted atmosphere inside the home clubhouse at Tropicana Field, usually good for a few laughs, had a serious undertone.
The Rays, good for so long, are searching for answers with starters who can’t reach six innings and a bullpen that looks more gassed by the day. With a 6-5 loss to the Cleveland Indians on Sunday to close a 1-5 homestand, they fell to 16-22, the second-worst record in the American League and 5½ games behind the Baltimore Orioles in the AL East.
"I’d be lying to you if I said I wasn’t a little bit stressed out," Longoria said, with the packing continuing around him. "We win, and we’ve won for quite awhile here, and I don’t think we’re playing bad games. I think we’re playing the game the right way. We’re just getting beat."
The most recent homestand served as a bungee jump of emotions for the Rays after they lived the high of winning four of the last five games to close a 10-game road trip against the Chicago White Sox, Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees. This was a long fall that dashed the good feelings from a week ago.
It has become clear that the Rays will continue to struggle to find consistency at least until right-hander Alex Cobb returns from a left oblique strain. Entering Sunday, their bullpen had worked 132 innings, which was a major-league-high and 38 1/3 innings more than it had worked through 37 games a year ago.
Suddenly, right-hander Chris Archer has become part of the problem. He was thought to be one of two steady arms, along with left-hander David Price, despite the injuries to Cobb, right-hander Jeremy Hellickson and left-hander Matt Moore. But he went just five innings Sunday, which was his third consecutive start that failed the finish the sixth inning.
The Rays’ record in games when starters don’t go at least six innings: 4-19. Their record when they do: 12-3.
"I’ve been working hard my whole career to be consistent," a frustrated Archer said Sunday evening. "I’m having a tough stretch of games right now, but it’s not going to derail the effort. The worst part is letting your teammates down."
"We’ve been getting hurt a lot in the bottom parts of batting orders," Maddon said. "A lot of them have been home runs that have hurt us too. Regardless, I just felt that he could get through (the sixth inning)."
Life doesn’t become easier. The Rays face right-hander Felix Hernandez on Monday and right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma on Tuesday at Safeco Field to begin a three-game series against the Seattle Mariners.
It’s too early to stress about where this season may lead. But for now, with that familiar winning consistency absent for the moment, the concern is warranted.
Here’s a look at the upcoming Rays-Mariners series …
SCHEDULE AND PROBABLE PITCHERS
David DeJesus (Rays): He hit .429 (9 for 21) with one home run and four RBI in six games from May 6-11. He has hit safely in all but one game in May (0 for 1 against the New York Yankees on May 2). He has hit .264 with three home runs and 12 RBI this season.
Justin Smoak (Mariners): He hit .276 (8 for 29) with one home run and seven RBI in eight games from May 5-11. He has hit safely in all but three games in May. He has hit .248 with five home runs and 24 RBI this season.
Desmond Jennings (Rays): He hit .100 (2 for 20) with five strikeouts in five games from May 6-11. The slump followed a seven-game hitting streak from April 28-May 4. He has hit .264 with four home runs and 10 RBI this season.
Brad Miller (Mariners): He hit .080 (2 for 25) with seven strikeouts in eight games from May 5-11. He went hitless in six games from May 6-10. He has hit .165 with three home runs and 11 RBI this season.
0: Hits with runners in scoring position that right-hander Jake Odorizzi allowed, in eight scenarios, against the Cleveland Indians in a 6-3 loss Friday at Tropicana Field. Odorizzi surrendered no runs and five hits with a career-best 11 strikeouts in five innings during the no-decision.
6: Consecutive losses for the Rays at home before they halted the skid with a 7-1 victory over the Indians on Saturday at Tropicana Field. It was their longest slide at home since losing six straight from June 17-26, 2005.
30: Themed road trips for the Rays since Maddon began the idea in 2008. The Rays flew to Seattle on Sunday wearing hippie-era attire for the Woodstock trip in honor of the famed 1969 music festival in White Lake, New York, that included artists such as Richie Havens and Jimi Hendrix. It was Tampa Bay’s second themed road trip this season, following Hat Trip 2.0 for the flight to Chicago on April 24.
"It’s a crazy game. We get the winning run on every night and we haven’t been able to pull it out. We just got to keep going."— Designated hitter David DeJesus after the Rays failed to complete a rally in the bottom of the ninth inning of their loss Friday. Tampa Bay had bases loaded when James Loney flied out to right field to end the game.
"It always comes down to throwing strikes. All my offspeed was working. Me and Hanny (catcher Ryan Hanigan) were on the same page. It helps a lot when you and your catcher are on the same page, you don’t have to shake him off. It was fun." — Left-hander Erik Bedard after he allowed a season-best one hit and no runs in six innings during the Rays’ victory Saturday. He has a 2-1 record with a 3.38 ERA in six appearances (five starts) this season.
"Just keep doing the fight thing. As long as we keep playing nine innings hard, which we have, it’s going to come back to us." — Maddon after the Rays’ loss Sunday. They scored three runs in the eighth inning to cut their deficit from 6-2 to 6-5 but still dropped their second game of the three-game series against the Indians.