Rays offense quiet with runners in scoring position vs. Rangers

Adam Berry

By Adam Berry

ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays’ last chance Friday night was not their only one, but it may have been their best one.

Trailing the Rangers by a run in the ninth inning, the top of Tampa Bay’s lineup loaded the bases with two outs and .313-hitting Harold Ramírez up to bat against right-hander José Leclerc. Ramírez made contact and bounced a ball to the left side of the infield, but third baseman Josh Jung fielded it, fired it to Marcus Semien and forced out Isaac Paredes at second base.

“We had the right guy up there,” manager Kevin Cash said. “Couldn’t quite find that hole.”

That missed opportunity was emblematic of a game in which Tampa Bay went 2-for-12 with runners in scoring position and stranded 12 men on base. It also continued a frustrating trend for the Rays, as their 4-3 defeat against the Rangers at Tropicana Field was their sixth loss in the last eight games.

The Rays broke out for 11 runs in Thursday’s series finale in Toronto, but they’ve scored four runs or fewer in nine of their last 10 games and three runs or fewer six times during that stretch. The hits came relatively easy, but big hits were more elusive.

“We’ve got to play a little bit better,” Cash said. “We’re a better offense than what we’ve shown here as of late. There’s been a couple lopsided games in there where we had pitchers not get deep into the ballgame. I would say the last week or so, just not totally in sync.”

Tampa Bay’s loss, combined with Toronto’s 6-3 win over Baltimore on Friday night, didn’t change too much in the American League Wild Card race. The Rays remain in the third Wild Card spot and maintained their 4 1/2-game cushion over the Orioles for the final spot in the postseason.

To slide back up the standings during their final homestand of the regular season, the Rays will need more consistent offensive production from a group that — aside from sidelined second baseman Brandon Lowe — is about as healthy as it can hope to be the rest of the way.

“Of course it’s tough,” outfielder Manuel Margot said through interpreter Manny Navarro. “With runners on base, you hope that you can get those runs.”

The Rays took a 2-0 lead in the second inning, but starter Corey Kluber surrendered it in the third by allowing four runs on five consecutive two-out hits. That sequence marred an otherwise-solid 5 2/3-inning start by Kluber, who retired only two of the 10 batters he faced in the shortest start of his career Saturday at Yankee Stadium.

The Rangers had seven hard-hit balls against Kluber on the night, and only three landed for hits. But two of them — Corey Seager’s 101.8 mph double and former Rays first baseman Nathaniel Lowe’s 105.9 mph homer — proved costly. Seager’s double tied the game, and Lowe’s 25th home run of the season put Texas ahead.

“The pitch to Seager, I didn’t think it was a bad pitch. Tip your hat to him,” Kluber said. “Didn’t execute the pitch to Lowe, and he did what he was supposed to do with it.”

“I don’t think anyone else really made [good] contact,” catcher Francisco Mejía added through Navarro, “but I think those two pitches actually decided the game.”

The Rays got one run back in the sixth to cut the Rangers’ lead in half. Taylor Walls reached on a soft-hit infield single, then sped around the bases to score on Mejía’s double to left field off Texas starter Martín Pérez, one of Mejía’s three hits on the night.

But the top of the lineup missed a chance to tie it up or pull ahead after that. The Rays had runners on the corners following a Jose Siri single, but Yandy Díaz flied out to right and Margot lined into the last out of the inning.

“That’s what it kind of comes down to,” Cash said. “When you get those guys on base, got to find ways to do whatever we can to add a couple more runs for our pitching staff.”

They had one more chance in the ninth, with the right hitter at the plate, but couldn’t capitalize.

“We had guys on base; we weren’t able to get them in. A day like yesterday, we were able to accomplish that,” Mejía said. “That’s just the game and the way it is.”

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