Last week was one Tampa Bay might want to forget. The Rays went 2-5 in their last seven games and have dropped to third place in the A.L East. Now, they're three games back from the division-leading Yankees and a game back from the Red Sox. It has been an interesting stretch to say the least.
I would not usually say Tampa needs to panic and I don't think they do now, but the events that transpired this week show a cause for concern. The Rays were no-hit by Edwin Jackson of the Arizona Diamondbacks. They lost a series on the road to the Florida Marlins and then lost a home series to the San Diego Padres.
In the last game of the series against the Padres, Joe Maddon showed just how creative of a manager he could be. After Matt Garza was called for a balk, Maddon came out to argue with the umpire at second base. But instead of arguing with the umpire, he directed his anger towards his players (although he was yelling about the balk call), who tried hard to hold in their laughter. Maddon was ejected, but entertaining nonetheless.
(This really has nothing to do with their bad stretch, but it's just too funny to not mention)
The most troubling event of their bad stretch came in Sunday's game against the Diamondbacks. B.J Upton decided to show how lazy he could be, jogging for a ball hit in the gap by Rusty Ryal. It could have easily been limited to a double had Upton actually tried, but instead Ryal turned it into a triple. It was a clear lack of hustle and Upton should have been benched afterwards (just like Hanley Ramirez). The jogging led to Gerardo Parra's two-run homer one batter later. There is no excuse for a lack of effort, especially when your team is in a slump and you're in a division with the Red Sox and Yankees.
Evan Longoria confronted Upton in the dugout immediately after the inning ended. Unfortunately, Upton didn't really appreciate the confrontation and it escalated to a heated argument in which Upton had to be restrained by his teammates.
Later on when Upton was up to bat, Longoria acted like the leader he is and cheered on his teammate. To make matters worse, Upton was picked off at first base after drawing a walk. It just wasn't a good day for Upton and the Rays.
After the game, both Longoria and Upton said the conflict has been resolved and everything is totally fine.
"It's just the byproduct of a frustrated team. We're trying to win games. Guys are going to have differences of opinions, it's the bottom line," said Longoria. "We've talked about it, we've hashed it out, and it goes no further than today."
The disgruntled Upton said,
"Over the course of a season it's going to happen. It happens and it's done with."
I hope it is truly "done with." Chemistry problems are never good for a young team battling in a pennant race. It would be a shame to see a team as talented as Tampa Bay to implode going into July. There is still plenty of time and it's not like the season is over just because of one confrontation. However, Upton better get his act together and stop dogging it in the field because that is exactly what he did. The Rays are fortunate to have a solid manager in Maddon and a solid leader in Longoria. - Michael Klopman
Michael, a Penn State Graduate writes for Xtra Point Football, Around the Horn Baseball, and works on the sports page at the Huffington Post.
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