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Tuesday, Jun 19, 2018
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Trip has brought Rays together

— Maybe all it took were the reports and rumors that David Price was about to be traded to shake the Rays out of their first-half slumber.

The worst-case scenario would have been realized, ownership was looking toward the future while saying the present was over and it was still June.

That can get a team's attention.

Or, maybe as owner Stuart Sternberg said early last week, the Rays just can't play from ahead. Make them the favorites, as was the case in 2009, and watch them implode. Tell them it's hopeless, that they are too far back in the standings, and watch them make the impossible possible as they did in 2011.

Either way, the Rays became a different team once they hit the road for this long trip than they had been at any point during the first three months of the season.

As Jake Odorizzi said after Wednesday's win at Yankee Stadium, everything is synching up, meaning the pitching, hitting and defense all show up at the same time.

This is how it was supposed to look way back when, back when the Rays opened the season as one of the favorites to reach the World Series.

Heck, the Rays scored more than four runs against the Tigers in Friday's win for an offensive outburst against the AL Central leaders not seen since May 24, 2011.

Last week the talk was what went right during the first half of the season. Even manager Joe Maddon had a hard time coming up with an answer.

Now? They are closer to first place than they are .500 and play in a division where the Orioles were rained out and took over first place on the same night.

The Rays begin a six-game homestand Monday that will take them into the All-Star break. Executive VP of baseball operations Andrew Friedman and his staff will continue to mull what they've been mulling for the past several weeks: Hold 'em or fold 'em?

Sternberg said that patience plays a role in every decision he and the team make, but the July 31 non-waiver trading deadline will be a little more than two weeks away when the Rays reach the break. Decision time is looming.

Will the confidence the front office has in this team grow if the Rays continue to play this well heading through the weekend? They did put this team together to compete not just this season but next season and the season after that, as well.

Two things to keep in mind: The front office is shocked at how poorly the offense performed for much of the first half, since the numbers that guided the construction of the roster said otherwise. Also, the front office is very good at sticking to a plan.

The AL East appears there for the taking this season, even to a team that sits last at the halfway point.

And, there is a little bit of history that says it can be done.

July 4 is one of those dates used to define a team's season. Teams in first place have a good chance of remaining at the top.

As for the teams at the bottom, there have been seven that were at least 91⁄2 games out of first place and rallied to reach the postseason.

Of course, Maddon often talks about the 2011 Rays, who were nine games out of a playoff spot at the beginning of September and won the wild-card spot on a wild final night of the regular season. The Rays had only one team to catch then, the Red Sox, and the BoSox helped out with a monumental collapse.

The Rays have the four teams in the division plus the six remaining AL teams that are between them and the second wild-card spot. That's a heck of a hill to climb.

That makes Friedman's decision tougher. How much faith at this point of the season can you have in a sub-.500 team?

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