Rays looking for confidence, identity
AL champs trying to overcome early-season struggles
ST. PETERSBURG -- So, who exactly are this year's Rays?
The team that won 97 games last season and made it all the way to the World Series? The group that's currently mired in a six-series losing streak? Somewhere in the middle?
According to utility man Ben Zobrist, it all depends on what the mentality of this still-young team is.
And as the Rays returned home following back-to-back losses while staring right into the face of a critical four-game series against the division-rival Red Sox, they're still trying to figure that out.
"We're trying to remember," said Zobrist, who was out of the lineup on Thursday to make way for Gabe Gross in right field. "We know who we are as a team -- we can't forget that just because we've had a few losses and not played as well as we're capable of lately. But what we tend to focus on is how we played lately and our circumstances instead of what we know is true.
"It's tough for a lot of us. We're all trying to figure out, "OK, where do I fit in to this whole Major League Baseball picture?' They believe that they're here and they belong here, but they don't know exactly where they belong."
Tampa Bay's only series win of the season came in its first, when the Rays took two out of three from the Red Sox.
Confidence for a relatively young team that has dropped seven of its last 10 games wouldn't appear to be too high when facing a team like Boston, but perhaps -- considering what the Rays showed last season -- there's a certain comfort level when hosting the Red Sox.
The Rays finished 10-8 against the Red Sox during the regular season last year, and the last game Boston played in 2008 -- and at Tropicana Field -- came in a 3-1 loss in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series.
"Mainly, with the Yankees and Red Sox, we know everything about them," third baseman Evan Longoria said. "We've played them so many times, we've seen their players, so there's really no surprises. I don't want to say it makes it easy, but it's a lot easier to go into a series against these guys when you don't have to do as much preparation, mentally."
The first month of the season is just ending, but with Tampa Bay already 6 1/2 games back in the AL East, which many expected to be the toughest division in baseball, the reigning AL Rookie of the Year thinks the Rays have to start winning now -- no matter what the calendar says.
"There needs to be some sense of urgency," Longoria said. "If we don't start turning this thing around, it could easily turn into a landslide, where we get ourselves in a situation where we can't come back. We know that in any other division, we might be able to play .500 ball, or a couple of games over .500, and make the playoffs. But we know in the AL East, we're probably going to have to be 10 games over [.500] -- at least -- to make the playoffs.
"We've got some time, but I don't want to make it seem like we have all the time in the world. We definitely have to win the next two series at home."
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.