8/30/2014 12:57 A.M. ET
Maddon hoping Rays can rediscover magic
By David Adler / MLB.com
ST. PETERSBURG -- As September draws closer, the Rays are still searching for the magic they've found in years past -- including, of course, 2013, when they had to win Games 162 and 163 just to get into the American League Wild Card Game.
But after losing three of four to the Orioles to drop 12 games out of first place in the AL East and eight back in the Wild Card standings, they're running out of time.
"For lack of a better way to describe it, there's got to be some magic involved in the whole season," manager Joe Maddon said before Friday's series opener against the Red Sox. "You play well enough to the point where you arrive at that moment where things just start going your way. You make the play. You make the pitch. You get the hit. The ball's in the dirt, it gets away from the catcher. But you have to earn that."
On July 30, Tampa Bay had worked its way back from 18 games below .500 to just a single game under, with plenty of wiggle room left. Now, though, it's a month later and the Rays, despite finally reaching the .500 mark on Aug. 15, haven't made up any ground -- in fact, they've lost some.
"You'd have to get likely extremely torrid right now," Maddon said. "Incendiary."
The Rays just haven't earned that magic. Maddon said so himself, hearkening back to the devastating 1-14 stretch the team went through in late May and early June. That swoon sent Tampa Bay spiraling to the worst record in baseball, until it bottomed out at 24-42 on June 10.
"The 1-14 really is kind of anti-magic dust," Maddon said. "Even to go 7-8 in that stretch, or even go 6-9 in that stretch, you're still relatively good. That's just an abnormal moment for us. That 1-14 kind of precluded us from being able to acquire any magic dust this season. Although we still have time left."
Not much, though. The Rays would have to finish the season 20-8 -- a .714 winning percentage -- just to reach 85 wins -- a mark that might not be enough to reach the postseason anyway.
Jennings day to day with left knee soreness
ST. PETERSBURG -- Center fielder Desmond Jennings was scratched from the Rays' lineup Friday night with left knee soreness just before the club's 7:10 p.m. ET series opener against the Red Sox at Tropicana Field.
"[It was] real late," manager Joe Maddon said after the Rays' 8-4 loss. "It was like 7:02 or something like that when we had to scramble to redo the lineup."
Jennings was listed as day to day.
Jennings had been slated into his usual leadoff spot. Brandon Guyer, who hit a two-run homer, took Jennings' spot in the order, but he was placed in left field.
To adjust their outfield alignment, the Rays moved Kevin Kiermaier from right field to Jennings' spot in center, where Kiermaier has occasionally spelled Jennings this year.
Matt Joyce, who had been starting in left field, moved over to right.
Rays' persistent home woes tough to quantify
ST. PETERSBURG -- Friday night marked the beginning of the Rays' last major homestand of the 2014 season -- 10 games in 10 days, all against American League East opponents. Their final homestand, in mid-September, is a shorter six-game stretch.
That might not bode well for a Tampa Bay team that would need to finish the season on a remarkable run to even have a puncher's chance at a playoff spot. After all, despite all the apparent advantages of playing at The Trop, the Rays were a subpar 29-36 at home entering Friday's opener vs. the Red Sox.
"I don't know. I don't know why," manager Joe Maddon said. "I guess our hitting numbers kind of, like, are similar both home and on the road from what I've been told. Because if you had asked me, I would have thought that we hit less here than we do on the road. That would've been my guess, just observationally."
In fact, the Rays' season totals are slightly better in general at The Trop than away from it, both offensively and pitching-wise. Their record has simply been much worse -- they are 36-33 on the road.
As a team, the Rays are batting .256 at home compared to .244 on the road. They have fewer strikeouts and more walks at home. Their on-base and slugging percentages and OPS are all higher at The Trop. Only their power numbers have been slightly better on the road.
Their overall pitching numbers, meanwhile, are almost better across the board in St. Pete. Tampa Bay has given up fewer hits, walks, runs and home runs at The Trop, while recording more strikeouts. Opposing hitters have lower averages, on-base and slugging percentages and OPS when the Rays play at home.
And yet, the records don't match up.
"It's been a great place for us regarding other teams not being comfortable," Maddon said. "Roof. Depth perception. Turf. All of that has always worked in our favor, but it hasn't this year, and I don't have a solid reason."
• Three of the Rays' Minor League affiliates qualified for postseason berths -- Triple-A Durham, Class A short-season Hudson Valley and Rookie-level Princeton.
• Tampa Bay will honor Derek Jeter before its game against the Yankees on Sept. 16, as Jeter plays his final series in St. Petersburg.
David Adler is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.