TAMPA - That was tasty, wasn't it? The Rays returned home Monday morning under the cover of dawn, fresh from a rude awakening. It's not going to be that easy. Not that Joe Maddon and the lads were ever fooled into that when they couldn't lose, but last week was still a head-snapper — a great big whiff of a Western swing, five straight losses, including that abominable blown 6-0 lead last Friday in Los Angeles. Was that night a season changer? Don't count on it. And don't count out the Rays.
There are 46 games to go, a long way, and it's never too early to worry ... about the serious dip in the bullpen, about this latest lousy run from Jeremy Hellickson, about the state of Matt Moore and Alex Cobb. But the good thing about the Rays, always, is they might lead the majors in memory loss. They still own the majors' second-best record since May 8 at 52-32. They still have some things going for them, and that occasionally includes their manager's near criminal optimism. “There's definitely something that was going to happen that wasn't going to go so swimmingly. It just wasn't going to happen that way,” Maddon said before Sunday night's loss. “We (were) in position to win two of those games that we didn't win, so I take solace that we could have won two of these (five games). But that's the way it plays out. You got to keep moving along. Am I discouraged? Absolutely not.” It's nothing a good homestand against Seattle and Toronto won't cure. The Rays have positively pounded teams with losing records this season, and they need to keep that up. It would help if Cobb looks good in his return from getting walloped by that liner, or Moore looks back to normal this weekend, that things feel good for the big road series in Baltimore. Surprise, surprise: The Red Sox aren't going away. They're up three games on the Rays after the Rays ran them down with that blistering stretch of great baseball. Mind you, the Sox tried to come back to earth last week, going just 3-4 ... only to pick up two games on Tampa Bay. Yes, that was one lousy Rays week. By the way, the Orioles don't appear to be going away, either. This was never going to be easy. It does not help that right now you can't tell the difference between Hellickson and Roberto Hernandez, and their near matching high-4 ERAs to prove it. Sometimes, losses like last Friday seem crushing. When the Rays blew David Price's start, when they handed it all back, and the freshly suspect Fernando Rodney threw it away, you just knew there was no way they were going to beat the Dodgers on the weekend. Los Angeles pitchers Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw might as well have been Drysdale and Koufax. Things turned around just like that out west. Now the Rays can't let the East get away from them. But they can turn around again. This franchise lately has made a career out of that. Even the relatively new, like pitcher Chris Archer, feel that vibe. “That's the cool complexity of this team,” Archer said way out west. “We can lose and never skip a beat …” Only maybe they just did. We'll see this week. This won't be easy after all.