John Romano: The tide is rising and the Rays are struggling to stay afloat | Baseball

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Officially, the regular season ends Oct. 5. At the Rays’ pace, it could end much, much sooner.

This team found itself in a dangerous race against time, attrition and wild card contenders. The Rays are like a NASCAR team betting they can get to the checkered flag before they run out of gas.

The hope is that they will be fine if they can survive until September. Manuel Margot should be back by then. Maybe Wander Franco and Harold Ramirez too. Pitching staff could also get reinforcements from half a dozen rehabilitated pitchers on the 60-day disabled list.

This version of the Rays? This could be a fun team to watch in the playoffs.

The problem is, the Rays may never get there. Not based on their current trajectory.

Since coming into the All-Star break on a 51-41 streak, the Rays have lost seven of 10 games and three straight series. They were passed in the wildcard standings by the Mariners and Blue Jays and, after losing 5-3 to Cleveland on Sunday, are just a game and a half ahead of the Guardians.

It’s not quite a freefall, but it has that potential.

And that means the next two days could be decisive in the direction of the season. As the trade deadline nears Tuesday night, the Rays have a Solomon-like decision.

Hold on tight and hope this lesser version of the team can stick around until the injured players start coming back? Or are you spending some of your minor league assets to help out?

“There’s a reasonable chance that September’s version of this club will be really good,” said general manager Peter Bendix. “I don’t want to lose sight of that. But I also want to make sure that we don’t fall out of favor and that we are in a position where we have to come back in September.

If you’re looking for clues as to where the Rays are headed, Saturday’s acquisition of David Peralta is a pretty good indicator.

It was a trade made entirely with the next two months in mind. Peralta is a free agent at the end of the season, so there’s no guarantee he’ll help Tampa Bay beyond 2022. He was brought in to add an immediate kick at fullback to a lineup which had too many recruits and rejections in everyday roles. .

I guess the Rays would like to make similar moves to strengthen the starting rotation and the bullpen. The problem in this expanded era of the playoffs is that too many teams are in contention and everyone is looking to pitch. This drove the price up to uncomfortable levels for the Rays.

Considering how many injured pitchers they could recover by September — Nick Anderson, JP Feyereisen, Matt Wisler, JT Chargois, Yonny Chirinos and maybe even Tyler Glasnow — the Rays won’t be giving up any of their best prospects for bring in a pitcher. just to survive August.

“The pitch is so expensive. So expensive. And we’re not going to do something that we think will sell,” Bendix said. “That doesn’t mean we’re not going to pay a high price if it happens. We traded Joe Ryan for Nelson Cruz (in 2021). We are not afraid to do so. It just has to be the right deal.

As difficult as the past two months have been, it’s important to remember that this was a dynamic team when the roster was intact. A true competitor to the World Series.

When Franco and Brandon Lowe have been in the lineup, the Rays have a .633 winning percentage in 2022. Without either, they’ve been a .486 team.

And that’s just the double play combo. It has nothing to do with injuries to Kevin Kiermaier, Mike Zunino, Margot, Ramirez, Feyereisen, Shane Baz and Andrew Kittredge.

So, yes, there is reason to be optimistic. Even watching the Rays get swept away in Cincinnati and lose two of three at Baltimore and three of four at Kansas City.

Even as Shane McClanhan’s ERA went from 1.76 to 2.07 on Sunday and Corey Kluber’s went from 3.58 to 4.03 in his last three starts. Even as Randy Arozarena regresses from his rookie season and the bullpen struggles to hold the lead.

The Rays have 27 games in August, and 20 are against teams that are currently at .500 or lower. It’s a survivable streak, but not if the Rays continue to play the way they have for the past two weeks.

Could they use some help at the trade deadline? Yes, they could.

Is it worth spending some of their most valuable assets in the minor leagues? We are about to find out.

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