ST. PETERSBURG — Blake Snell stepped up when he had to Monday and delivered an impressive career-high seven-plus innings for the Rays. That it wasn't enough in what ended up a 5-0 loss to the Orioles that was their season-high fifth straight is symptomatic of the funk they are in right now.
Adding to their woes Monday were catcher Wilson Ramos leaving the game after being hit on the head by a broken bat and needing six staples to close the gash; the offense remaining somewhat somnolent in being shut out for the fifth time; and another costly baserunning blunder, this one by Tim Beckham.
And that coming off a weekend in which they were swept by the Rangers.
Sooooooo, is there still reason for optimism?
Certainly in what Snell did, having gotten past five innings only once in the 10 big-league starts since his season debut. And, maybe even more so, in how he did it, showing the aggressiveness, improved strike-throwing (69 of 109, for 63.3 percent), early focus on the fastball and quickened tempo the Rays were looking for.
But before the game, there was still plenty of optimism — and some humor — in the Rays clubhouse.
"We have all the belief in the world in here that things will come together," veteran third baseman Evan Longoria said. "We'll win a game again. I promise you that, we'll win another one."
Citing the offense, pitching and defense that got the Rays to 51-48 by Monday, Longoria insisted they have the elements to make the playoffs.
"This team has shown the ability to do everything that teams that can play late into the season can do," he said.
And as for the skeptics who took to social media with sky-is-falling alerts?
"I've done my fair share of begging and pleading with the fans to stay on board with us over the years," Longoria said. "At this point you either believe or you don't believe, and the guys in this clubhouse believe. And that to me is really what I'm here for, to win with this group of guys and be excited about coming to the ballpark every day."
There were other reasons to be encouraged:
• Given all the injuries and some of the inconsistencies, they have played pretty well to this point, combining a surprisingly potent offense with their usual strong starting pitching and improved defense (though the bullpen remains a bit suspect), building credibility and confidence. And that didn't change over the weekend. "That's not going to make us lose confidence," manager Kevin Cash said. "Are we frustrated? Sure. It's fair to be frustrated. We care a lot. … But that's not going to make us change our minds about how good we think this club is."
• There are still 62 games to play. Even after losing four straight, the Rays took the field Monday night tied for the second wild card and within 3½ games of first in the American League East. In 2011, they were nine games out of a playoff spot — in September — and ended up making the playoffs, albeit with a wee bit of Game 162 drama. And in 2013, they had a 4-13 slump late in the season — from Aug. 25-Sept. 11 — and also made it, although needing to win Game 163 to do so.
• The front office is working hard — feverishly, we're told — to address their two biggest deficiencies, a dominant reliever — beyond Sergio Romo, who was picked up off the DFA discard pile — and a hitter, likely right-handed, to further boost the offense. "Constant conversation, constant thought on how to make us better in different areas of our club," Cash said. "They're working really hard. It doesn't just come together at the snap of a finger as we all know. It takes time. Sometimes you're at the mercy of the other club and just waiting to see when they want to move a guy, or not move a guy." And if you think that's just Cash spouting the company line, Longoria said he heard much the same directly from general manager Erik Neander: "He's confident they are going to try to do everything they can to add a couple more pieces and help shore things up."
And there are some reasons to be discouraged:
• The rotation, despite going into play with a 3.96 ERA that ranks second in the league, is not as deep as it appears. Chris Archer and Alex Cobb have been sturdy, though not yet in that David Price-James Shields class that Archer mentioned last week. But Jake Odorizzi's consistent inconsistency has become a major concern, Snell has to prove he can do what he did Monday more frequently and the Rays have to hope it was just a bad inning, or a bad afternoon, for rookie Jake Faria last time out and not the beginning of a bad turn.
• The schedule gets brutal. After finishing with the Orioles, the Rays play their next five series — 17 games — against teams with better records. That's four at the Yankees leading into the trading deadline and four at the AL-best Astros, then visits from the Brewers, East-leading Red Sox and Central-leading Indians.
• Teams the Rays are competing with for the division title and the wild cards have already made deals to get better, including the Mariners, Royals, Twins and Yankees. And in doing so, they have added several relievers, thinning the options. The Rays — to this point — have only added Romo.
• Some of the hot bats that carried the Rays through the first half have been quite cold, Corey Dickerson going into play Monday hitting .197 with four RBIs over his previous 19 games, Logan Morrison hitting .150 with four RBIs over his past 12.
Marc Topkin can be reached at email@example.com. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.