Rays needing improvement at the plate

BY foxsports • September 18, 2012

Tempers are flaring, and the Tampa Bay Rays are sliding out of postseason contention.

Improvement at the plate is practically paramount.

The Rays will try to regain their focus and generate some much-needed offense in order to begin reversing their untimely spiral against the Boston Red Sox on Tuesday night.

Tampa Bay (78-69) has lost six of seven, a stretch that may cost the team a trip to the playoffs.

The Rays are 5 1/2 games behind New York in the AL East race, and five in back of Baltimore for the league's second wild-card spot.

"We're going to have to find a way to bounce out of it," center fielder B.J. Upton said.

The pressure to do that appears to be mounting, and it was on display during Monday's 5-2 loss to Boston (67-81) to open this four-game set.

Starting pitcher Alex Cobb and catcher Jose Molina got into a heated exchange in the dugout after the sixth, during which the Rays gave up two runs to relinquish the lead for good. The inning included a wild pitch and passed ball.

"We're both really into that game, and we needed to win that game," Cobb said. "I honestly don't really know what the argument was about, still. We'll work things out."

The Rays could also use increased production from their lineup, which has mustered 3.0 runs per game and a .215 average - .186 with runners in scoring position - in the last seven contests.

The staff has done its part all year, leading the AL with a 3.27 ERA.

"This has been ongoing. ... This is a seasonal misadventure," manager Joe Maddon said of his club's struggling offense. "We've been able to remain solvent because our pitching has been so good."

Jeremy Hellickson (8-10, 3.22 ERA) is well aware of the offense's shortcomings.

The right-hander has been backed by five total runs while going 0-2 with a 2.86 ERA in his last four starts. The lack of support has been a major problem in his past two outings, as he's received two total runs while not getting a decision despite yielding one run in 11 innings.

That continued with Thursday's 3-2, 14-inning defeat at Baltimore, as Hellickson tossed five-plus scoreless innings, allowing four hits.

The offense struggled in Hellickson's latest meeting with Boston on July 13, when he gave up three runs with four walks in six innings of a 3-1 home defeat.

He's 1-2 with a 3.60 ERA in four starts against the Red Sox at Tropicana Field.

The Red Sox are 3-1 on this seven-game road trip, and Felix Doubront (10-9, 5.11) takes the mound looking for his first victory since beating the White Sox on July 18.

The left-hander is 0-5 with a 7.38 ERA in eight starts since, getting charged with a 2-0 defeat to New York in his latest outing Thursday. He allowed two runs and four hits while matching his career high with five walks in 6 1-3 innings, the deepest he's pitched in his last six games.

Doubront is 1-1 with a 2.51 ERA in five games - two starts - at Tampa Bay, winning his most recent visit 5-3 on May 17. He allowed two runs - one earned - with seven strikeouts and four walks in 5 2-3 innings.

Jacoby Ellsbury is batting .368 in his last nine games after going 3 for 5 with a homer and three RBIs Monday. He's 11 for 22 in five meetings with Tampa Bay this year, but is just 2 for 14 in his career versus Hellickson.