ST. PETERSBURG – After surging into the All-Star break, the Rays stumbled out of the gate in the second half.
They’ve lost seven of their last 10 games, falling into the third American League Wild Card spot with little room to spare. It’s probably not realistic to expect such an injury-depleted group to launch a crazy winning streak, but it is critical that they stay afloat while waiting for the return of Wander Franco, Manuel Margot, Harold Ramírez, Francisco Mejía and some of their injured pitchers.
Why? Because their schedule isn’t conducive to a comeback.
Thanks to the Rays’ always-informative game notes for this nugget from the Elias Sports Bureau: Tampa Bay’s remaining schedule as of Sunday had a weighted opponents’ winning percentage of .530, the highest mark in the Majors. The Rays will play 30 of their final 33 games against division leaders (Yankees and Astros, six each), teams holding a Wild Card spot (Blue Jays, nine) or clubs within four games of a playoff spot (Red Sox for six, Guardians for three).
Player of the Month
Ramírez was hitting .400 (24-for-60) with seven doubles, a homer and 10 RBIs in 16 games in July before going down with a fractured right thumb just before the All-Star break, and Mejía slashed .356/.370/.622 with three homers in 14 games before a shoulder injury knocked him out.
The Rays also got another hot hitter back from the injured list, finally, in Brandon Lowe. The slugging second baseman looks to be past his back injury and poised for a big second half after finishing the month with a 16-for-47 (.340) stretch with a pair of homers and four doubles.
But the steadiest presence in their lineup all season, and their best player in July, was Yandy Díaz. The corner infielder hit .330/.413/.511 with 11 doubles, 18 RBIs and -- as he does -- more walks (12) than strikeouts (11).This past month was Díaz at his best: working tough at-bats, getting on base, putting the ball in play and spraying it around the ballpark and coming through with some big hits.
Pitcher of the Month
Even with an uncharacteristic clunker on Sunday, the pick here is still -- for the fourth straight month -- Shane McClanahan. The American League’s All-Star starter put together a 2.93 ERA with 35 strikeouts and only seven walks while holding opponents to a .170 average and .570 OPS in 30 2/3 innings over five starts last month. He gave the Rays a great chance to win four of those games, even if they only went 2-3 behind him.
The Rays are going to be careful with his workload down the stretch, but he enters the final two months as a clear AL Cy Young Award candidate.
Reliever of the Month
Jason Adam had another excellent month, with a 0.90 ERA and 0.50 WHIP and 15 strikeouts over 10 innings. Brooks Raley has been great lately, too, aside from one rough outing in Cincinnati and a fluky inning in Kansas City. But how about the work done recently by right-hander Ryan Thompson?
Like McClanahan, Thompson’s month ended on a frustrating note, as he allowed two inherited runners to score on a softly hit single in the Rays’ 5-3 loss to the Guardians on Sunday. But overall, he wasn’t charged with a run and allowed only four hits and two hit batters in 10 1/3 innings. After running up a 6.75 ERA in his first 24 outings, he hasn’t allowed an earned run over 16 appearances since June 18, and he’s held opponents to a .109/.170/.146 slash line during that time.