Rays have Fats chance at playoffs

KEN FIDLIN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:51 AM ET

Twelve days ago, the Tampa Bay Rays were sitting in a good spot, just two games behind the AL East Division-leading New York Yankees and one game out in the wild card hunt.

Then the bottom fell out of their season.

Coming off a series in which they won two of three from the Texas Rangers, the Rays went into Baltimore and came unglued, swept away in a three-game series. Then they went on to New York and lost two of three at Yankee Stadium. Next, there was more bad news against Boston and, suddenly, opportunity had turned to disaster in the form of seven losses in eight games.

Heading into the finale of a four-game series against Boston on Thursday, the best the Rays could hope for was a split. With 11 games left, starting with this three-game series at Tropicana Field against the Blue Jays, Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon betrayed a generational gap by talking about his team's need to pull a "Minnesota Fats."

That's his way of saying the Rays may soon need to run the table.

In those seven losses to the Orioles and Yankees, the Rays scored just 20 runs. They have been offensively challenged at times this season but their pitching and superb defence have often combined to sweep the offensive shortcomings under the rug. But at this critical point in the season, all their systems failed at once.

This is not a team to be counted out just yet.

Don't forget the miracle of 2011 when they tracked down the Boston Red Sox with a 17-10 September that included wins in six of their last seven games, overtaking Boston for the wild card in the season's final at-bat. That kind of magic, however, doesn't manifest itself all that often and is not visible right now.

"We normally thrive in these moments and we're playing kind of tight," Maddon said Tuesday after his team's 7-5 loss to Boston. "We're playing uptight. We're jonesing a little bit out there and I don't understand why.

"It's just about us winning and not worrying about everybody else," he said. "We've got to keep the blinders on and if we do our thing eventually, possibly, somebody will come back to us.

Perhaps, but don't count on it. Not with multiple teams still believing they have a chance to slip into that wild card play-in game after the end of the regular schedule.

As the Rays prepared to play the Red Sox on Thursday night, the Rays sat 6.5 games behind Oakland and six games back of Baltimore in the wild card race, with the Los Angeles Angels to climb over as well.


BLUE JAYS AT RAYS

FRIDAY 7:10 p.m. RHP C. Villanueva RHP James Shields

SATURDAY 7:10 p.m. RHP Brandon Morrow LHP Matt Moore

SUNDAY 1:40 p.m. RHP Chad Jenkins RHP Alex Cobb


FIDLIN'S TAKE

It has been a really difficult year for these Blue Jays, but there is no sugar-coating the absolutely lame response this team has mounted in the face of adversity. That begins in the front office and stretches down to the manager, coaches and players. Many other clubs have been just as badly damaged by injuries but have found a way to be competitive. Not this team, however.

PREDICTION

The Trop has been Death Valley for the Blue Jays for five years now. The Jays are 10-32 at Tropicana Field since the start of the 2008 season and haven't won a series since early April of 2007. It would be a shock if they won more than one of three games.


RAYS WHO'S HOT

  • Carlos Pena, whose batting average has been below .200 and OPS below .700 the entire second half, has hit .276 with a 1.017 OPS in 17 September games.
  • Ben Zobrist has been Tampa Bay's most productive hitter in the second half, with a BA of .289 and an OPS of .841.
  • Fernando Rodney has been a revelation as Tampa Bay's closer, with 43 saves in 45 opportunities, allowing just 39 hits and 14 walks in 68.1 innings.

RAYS WHO'S COLD

  • Matt Moore is winless in his last five starts, allowing an ERA of 5.61 and an opponents' OPS of .861 in that span. In his last two starts, he has pitched three and four innings, respectively.
  • In 13 games since Aug. 29, primary designated hitter Luke Scott is 5-for-32 for a BA of .156 and an OPS of .458.

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