Seemingly assured of a playoff appearance a little more than a month ago, the Tampa Bay Rays' postseason fate has become a lot less certain. They might miss out on the playoffs altogether for the second straight year if they don't soon find a way to turn things around.
Giving the ball to Matt Moore against the Seattle Mariners on Sunday at Safeco Field figures to be a good start as Tampa Bay tries to avoid losing control of an AL wild-card berth.The Rays (77-64) suffered a 6-2 loss at Seattle on Saturday, their 11th defeat in 14 games.They owned the AL's best record at 64-43 on July 30, giving them a one-half game divisional edge over Boston. Tampa Bay has since gone 13-21 with only Miami (13-22), the Chicago Cubs (12-23) and Houston (12-25) posting worst records.The AL East race is essentially over with the Red Sox running their lead up to 8 1/2 games, while Saturday's loss trimmed the Rays' wild-card advantage to one game over Cleveland and Baltimore. New York and Kansas City aren't too far off the pace either at 2 1/2 and 3 1/2 games, respectively.Tampa Bay has totaled 37 runs and is 21 for 127 (.165) with runners in scoring position during the 3-11 stretch and managed just two runs and four hits over six innings off Seattle starter James Paxton in his big league debut Saturday.Evan Longoria broke a nine-game drought without an RBI by connecting for a two-run homer, but Desmond Jennings, Yunel Escobar, Wil Myers and David DeJesus are a combined 5 for 47 (.106) with runners in scoring position since Aug. 25."We're just unable to get the hit when you need to," manager Joe Maddon said. "I know we gave up six runs, but sometimes you've got to score seven, you've got to score eight. We're still unable to really put an offense together."Tampa Bay is hopeful it won't need many runs with Moore (15-3, 3.27 ERA) on the mound in his second start since spending a month on the disabled list due to elbow soreness.The left-hander showed little rust in a 7-1 road win over the Los Angeles Angels on Tuesday, allowing four hits and an unearned run while striking out six in 5 1/3 innings.Moore is 7-0 in his last eight outings with a 2.06 ERA."It didn't really feel foreign out there. I think all of the thoughts I had were pretty typical for a start," Moore said. "Just being able to travel with the team on the road when I was on the DL and be in the dugout in every home game was big for me because it helped me stay in the game."Moore went 1-1 with a 1.80 ERA in three starts versus Seattle last year, recording 23 strikeouts in 20 innings.Seattle will counter with Erasmo Ramirez (5-1, 5.07), who gave up four runs and seven hits in 5 1/3 innings of a 5-4 win at Tampa Bay on Aug. 13, but owns a 2.81 ERA over four starts since.A Mariners win Sunday would mark their first series sweep of the Rays in three games or more since Aug. 7-9, 2006, in Seattle.