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Rays' bats perk up, but 'pen can't stop Fish, skid

Club drops 10th straight as McGee, Boxberger endure rare struggles

ST. PETERSBURG -- Ten games into a losing streak, 14 games back in the American League East standings, 15 games under .500 and holding the worst record in baseball, Rays left fielder Matt Joyce ran his hand through his hair and smiled faintly at the craziness of it all.

The Rays' losing streak had just reached double digits on Thursday, as Tampa Bay fell to Miami, 11-6, at Tropicana Field. The Rays were swept four straight by the Marlins in the Citrus Series -- which the Marlins hadn't swept since 2005 -- and, at 23-38, have the worst record in the Major Leagues. They haven't held that position since their 66-96 season in 2007.

"I don't think it's something that ..." Joyce said, then paused, sighing. "I don't know, to be honest with you. I mean, it's frustrating, it's shocking, it's -- there's a long list of words that can describe it."

It seemed like no matter how much of that list he went through, he'd never hit on the right one.

Thursday's loss was just the latest chapter in the story that is the Rays' struggles. Of course, the losing streak was overshadowed the past two days by the passing of Rays senior advisor and baseball legend Don Zimmer on Wednesday. But after a moment of silence prior to Thursday's game, there was baseball to be played.

And, unfortunately for the Rays, a skid to be extended. That losing streak now equals the longest in baseball this year -- the Red Sox's 10-game streak in May, to which the Rays contributed the final three loses. Boston broke out of its slide with seven straight wins -- including a sweep of Tampa Bay -- so the Rays know they can bounce back from their own slump. But that doesn't mean it's not exasperating.

Thursday's loss fell on some of the more unusual suspects. After the Rays had come back to tie the game at 3 in the fifth inning, two of their most reliable relievers -- Jake McGee and Brad Boxberger -- gave up three runs apiece in the sixth and seventh (although the first of those six runs was charged to Jake Odorizzi). The Rays cut into the deficit in the bottom of both frames, with two runs in the sixth and one in the seventh, but they never erased it.

"I really thought Jake McGee could quiet it right there after we tied the game," manager Joe Maddon said. "Now, theoretically perfect -- that sets it up for Boxberger with the bottom of the batting order for the seventh inning, which brings you back to Joel Peralta for middle of the order for the eighth inning, and then here comes [closer Grant Balfour] for the save. Now, when that did not occur that way, we tried to keep it close."

They didn't.

McGee entered the game with a 1.05 ERA in 27 games, hadn't allowed a run since April and had retired the last 21 batters he had faced. But Miami tagged him for three hits and scored three times with him in the game.

Boxberger, who had a 1.35 ERA when he entered, gave up hits to all three batters he faced -- including a scorcher of a two-run homer by Giancarlo Stanton -- and was charged with three earned runs.

That's just how it's gone for the Rays' machine -- when one part's working, another part breaks down. On Thursday, the team's bats finally woke up, and their arms let them down.

Odorizzi (2-6, 5.31 ERA) took the loss -- even though nine total runs were scored after he left the game -- and Jacob Turner got the win for Miami, despite giving up five runs in 5 1/3 innings.

Odorizzi had been cruising, with seven strikeouts through 3 2/3 innings. But with two outs in the fourth, Miami strung together five straight singles to take a 3-1 lead, capped off by the first career Major League hits for Justin Bour and J.T. Realmuto, both of whom were making their debuts.

The Rays got even in the fifth on a pair of solo homers by Kevin Kiermaier and Ben Zobrist, tying the game at 3. But the Tampa Bay bullpen couldn't keep it that way, and the Rays didn't even the score again.

The team's struggles are clearly getting to the Rays, no matter how consistently positive and optimistic Maddon has remained throughout the slide. Alex Cobb, for example, vented his anger after his last start, saying, "This is not the way we play baseball around here."

In Thursday's game, it was Yunel Escobar's frustration that showed through, as he spiked his helmet from the batter's box to the Rays' dugout after Adeiny Hechavarria robbed him of a line-drive RBI single with a leaping catch at shortstop to end the Tampa Bay seventh.

"Line drive got caught again," Maddon said, laughing in disbelief. "He's had several of those, and that was just frustration; that's all that is. He's an emotional fellow -- I can't blame him, because he was just upset.

"There was an RBI for him, a line-drive base hit ... caught. That's been going on."

It's that type of thing, which has "been going on" all too much for the Rays' liking, that made Joyce smile Thursday night. What else could he do?

David Adler is an associate reporter for
Read More: Tampa Bay Rays, Ben Zobrist, Matt Joyce, Jake Odorizzi, Jake McGee, Brad Boxberger, Kevin Kiermaier