The AL East champion Tampa Bay Rays are on the brink of playoff elimination and their struggling offense is a major reason.
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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.
”There’s two good pitchers over there and they threw two good games,” Rays left fielder Carl Crawford said. ”There’s not too much you can do about that. You hope you get to the next guy that’s coming.”
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 is just 1 for 13 with runners in scoring position and left 15 on base through the first two games.
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 went 1 for 4 in Game 1 and was hitless in four trips Thursday. The Rays’ production against lefties now seems like a distant memory.
”Obviously, I wish I had an explanation for why we’re not doing it,” Longoria said. ”But I can tell you this, we’re preparing the same way and sometimes the results come and sometimes they don’t. Right now, they’re not. I think in two days it’s a good time to turn it around.”
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’ Michael Young, took no action.
The Rays’ bats were basically the same, providing little action at the plate.
”We’ve got to get big hits,” Shoppach said. ”Breaks are clearly going their way, but a big hit changes momentum, especially in these short series. If you can capture momentum, you can come right back. But we’ve got to seize our opportunities.”
NOTES: It was the 16th time a manager was ejected from a postseason game and the first since Tony La Russa was thrown out of St. Louis’ 2-1 loss at Houston in Game 4 of the NL Championship series on Oct. 16, 2005, according to research by STATS LLC. Bobby Cox, who holds the major league record for ejections as a manager, had been kicked out of two playoff games before Atlanta’s postseason opener at San Francisco on Thursday night. … The Rays removed Baldelli from the roster and added Aybar, who was the designated hitter Thursday. The team said Baldelli, who was 0 for 3 with two strikeouts in Game 1, had left leg fatigue, a symptom of mitochondrial disorder, a condition he has that was diagnosed in 2008.