'We're not creating momentum': Rays unravel vs. Sox

May 23rd, 2024

ST. PETERSBURG -- Nearly a third of the way through the season, the Rays seem to be stuck in neutral.

They’ve spent the past eight weeks hovering around the .500 mark, never more than three games over or four games under the break-even point. They’ve won seven series, lost seven others and split two. For every step forward, they’ve taken at least one back.

That is where the Rays stand after an 8-5 loss to the Red Sox on Wednesday night, a game they led by three before giving up five runs during an ugly fifth inning and three more in the sixth, and a rare three-game sweep by Boston at Tropicana Field. The Rays have lost four straight overall, their longest skid of the season, to fall back below .500 at 25-26.

“It's been very challenging to establish momentum. We're not creating momentum,” manager Kevin Cash said. “At the end of the day, it's on us to make the pitch, make the play and get that big hit. And it feels like we're not doing that at the rate that we need to do to have momentum created.”

The Rays were swept at home for the first time since last July 4-6 and by the Red Sox for the first time since Oct. 3-5, 2022. After Tampa Bay took three of four at Fenway Park last week, Boston pulled off its first sweep at the Trop since April 19-21, 2019.

That left the Rays with a 6-7 record during a stretch of 13 consecutive games against American League East competition. They showed promise by following a 1-5 road trip at the end of April with a 6-3 homestand and a 5-2 trip to Boston and Toronto, only to drop their first three games at home heading into a weekend series against the dangerous Royals.

One step back, two steps forward, another step back to fourth place in the division.

“That's baseball. You're gonna go through stretches of good. You're gonna go through your stretches of bad,” starter Ryan Pepiot said. “We played them well at their place, and they came in playing well. … We'll regroup.”

Adding injury to insult, Rays outfielder Josh Lowe exited Wednesday’s series finale after just one inning due to a right side strain. Health has once again been an issue for the Rays this season. Already set to start the season without several key starting pitchers, they lost a bunch of key contributors in Spring Training -- including Lowe, who missed nearly two months due to a right oblique strain.

Lowe will have an MRI on Thursday’s off-day, but Cash acknowledged it’s “not ideal,” especially considering Lowe just dealt with an injury to the same area.

“Extremely frustrated,” Lowe said. “I worked my [butt] off to be here and to get back and then put myself in a situation to play. And to have something happen again is frustrating.”

In his first four innings after a 16-day stint on the injured list, Pepiot allowed just one hit and worked around three walks to keep the Red Sox off the board. Pepiot said he felt fine physically but battled subpar command and a shoddy slider, which eventually caught up to him in the fifth.

With the Rays leading, 3-0, Pepiot began the inning with his season-high fourth walk and a hit batter then allowed an RBI single to No. 9-hitting Ceddanne Rafaela before exiting with nobody out.

“Wheels fell off. Just lost the command even more,” Pepiot said. “Command wasn't there really the whole night. Didn't really have a slider -- threw a few good ones, but a lot of them just kind of stayed out. And then just overall command wasn't it today. I just didn't execute pitches.”

The bullpen couldn’t settle down the situation, either. Lefty reliever Richard Lovelady allowed an infield hit and a game-tying single by Connor Wong, and right-hander Kevin Kelly permitted a pair of RBI singles to Rob Refsnyder and Dominic Smith. The Red Sox put up three more runs in the sixth, capitalizing on a missed catch error by first baseman Yandy Díaz as Jarren Duran doubled and Wilyer Abreu launched a two-run homer to center off Kelly.

“Definitely did happen fast,” Kelly said. “Kind of got away from us quick.”

Offensively, it was a familiar story for the Rays. They scored three runs in the second but couldn’t put any more pressure on the Sox staff. After Boston’s eight-run outburst, Tampa Bay managed only single runs in the seventh and ninth. The Rays have been outscored, 23-9, during their four-game losing streak.

“They outplayed us in every facet,” Cash said. “We didn't perform.”