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Rock bottom? Rays are swept by MLB-worst White Sox

CHICAGO — Manager Kevin Cash has become increasingly open and pointed over the last few days about the need for his Rays to start playing better, and soon.

That time would urgently seem to be now, as the Rays come off what they can only hope is the low point of their season, Sunday’s 4-2 loss completing a series sweep by a White Sox team that entered the weekend as MLB’s worst.

“Yeah, that’s fair,” Cash said. “The guys, look, they understand what’s going on and they’re frustrated by it. But at the end of the day, it’s going to be on us to turn it around.”

Going into play Friday, the Sox had been historically bad, winning only three of their first 25 games. But with the Rays wasting multiple scoring chances, making bad pitches at crucial times and erring in the field and on the bases, the Sox doubled that win total in three days and knocked the Rays to a season-low three games under .500 at 13-16.

“Obviously getting swept sucks by anybody,” starter Zack Littell said. “Getting swept by a team that hasn’t really played up to par yet is also frustrating.

“But ... you see maybe they’re coming out of it a little bit. You look at that lineup, it’s not a 6-22 lineup. Just as you look at our lineup, and you could say the same thing. So we’ve definitely left some games out there. Some winnable games. But I just don’t expect it to continue.”

The Rays’ best hope for a better future rests in their past, when the key players from their teams that won 99 and 86 games the past two seasons and made the playoffs, along with a couple others, are expected to return soon from injury.

“You look around the room, we’ve got guys that have a track record of being really good,” Littell said. “And I don’t think anybody here doubts we are really good.

“This is obviously a super tough stretch. But I can also say that nobody in here is happy with how they’re performing. And, if it’s anything, I think we can expect everybody to turn it around at some point. (It’s) just a matter of getting one or two guys going and then it can really snowball in here.”

But, Yandy Diaz, their most tenured active player, said that could take time, and that a key is for him and his mates to relax and not put pressure on themselves.

“I think things do got to change,” he said, via team interpreter Manny Navarro. “I think it’s a long season. When the season goes, I think good things are going to happen. And I think we’ve just got to keep on going with it and wait for it to happen.”

After Friday’s 9-4 beating and Saturday’s 8-7, 10-inning walkoff loss, Sunday looked promising for the Rays.

They took a 1-0 lead in the fourth when Isaac Paredes led off with a homer, like his previous 59 in the majors, to leftfield.

But Littell, who overall worked a solid six innings, gave it back and more with a rough one-out staccato sequence. Gavin Sheets and Eloy Jimenez rapped back-to-back singles. After Andrew Benintendi, who delivered Saturday’s winning homer, struck out, Robbie Grossman and Danny Mendick delivered RBI singles for a 2-1 lead.

The Sox added two more in the eighth off recently called up Manuel Rodriguez.

“Zack threw the ball really, really well,” Cash said. “He left one off-speed pitch, I think it was up and in, to Jimenez that kind of extended the inning, and then they pieced together two big RBI hits, one right over (second baseman Curtis) Mead’s head and one right past us.”

The Rays were pretty much shut down again, managing just seven hits, going 0-for-4 with runners in scoring position, leaving four on. Sox starter Erick Fedde, a 31-year-old who never had pitched into the eighth before as a starter, came within two outs of a complete game. Jordan Leasure, the Riverview High/University of Tampa product, finished and picked up his first big-league save.

Asked before the game for an assessment of their first month, Cash said:

“If I’m being honest, we’re fortunate to be where we’re at. Simple as that. We have not played good baseball. I’d like to think better days are ahead of us. I’m confident in that. We’ve got to get some guys healthy. But this group here that’s here right now also is fully capable of playing better baseball. I’d like to see that turn around pretty quick.”

And now, quicker.

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