Rays’ struggling offense puts season in jeopardy

The AL East champion Tampa Bay Rays are on the brink of playoff

elimination and their struggling offense is a major reason.

Tampa Bay managed only one run while losing the first two games

of the division series to the Texas Rangers. The missing offense

was a familiar theme late in the regular season when the Rays were

shut out three times over the final seven games, twice by Baltimore

and once by Kansas City.

C.J. Wilson became the second Rangers left-hander to shut down

Tampa Bay in as many days when he carried a one-hitter into the

seventh inning in a 6-0 victory Thursday. Cliff Lee allowed just

one run – Ben Zobrist’s seventh-inning homer – and five hits over

seven innings in the Rangers’ 5-1 win Wednesday.

The Rays finished with just eight hits total in the two home

playoff games and now must win Saturday’s game at Texas to stay

alive in the best-of-five series. Matt Garza, who won both of his

starts against the Rangers in the regular season, will face Texas

right-hander Colby Lewis.

If the Rays’ lineup continues to struggle, it could be one short

road trip.

Tampa Bay hit just .247 during the regular season, which matched

the fifth-lowest all-time among AL teams that made the playoffs.

The Rays’ 1,292 strikeouts were the most ever in either league for

a team that advanced to the postseason.

Still, Tampa Bay was optimistic entering the division series,

especially with the return of cleanup hitter Evan Longoria, who

missed the last 10 regular-season games with a strained left

quadriceps. The Rays also won their last four regular-season games

against Texas and had a 36-20 record against left-handed starters,

the second-best mark in the majors behind Florida (34-15).

Longoria singled in four at-bats in Game 1, but was hitless in

four trips Thursday. The Rays’ production against lefties now seems

like a distant memory.

Tampa Bay’s frustration boiled over several times, including

Kelly Shoppach making several waving gestures toward plate umpire

Jim Wolf while heading toward the dugout after looking at a called

third strike with two on and none out in the seventh.

Wolf, who earlier threw out Rays manager Joe Maddon for arguing

a check swing call on Texas third baseman Michael Young, took no

action.

The Rays’ bats were basically the same, providing little action

at the plate.