ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- The Tampa Bay Rays are doing very little well lately.
Thanks to a torrid stretch in which they have dropped 18 of 21 games, the last-place Rays (34-50) are now 15 games behind the first-place Baltimore Orioles in the American League East. They are also seven games behind the team directly ahead of them, the fourth-place New York Yankees.
However, the Rays are consistently hitting the ball well against lefties. They are batting .283 against left-handers as opposed to .229 against right-handers, and they are 11-9 against lefties, 23-41 against righties.
Thus, if there is any optimism for Tampa Bay headed into the series finale against the Angels on Thursday, wrapping up a homestand that currently stands at 3-7, it is that the Rays get to face Los Angeles left-hander Hector Santiago.
Santiago (5-4, 4.93 ERA) owns a career 8.38 ERA against Tampa Bay, including a 9.00 ERA in one previous start this season.
The Rays counter with a young lefty of their own, rookie Blake Snell, who is 1-3 with a 3.86 ERA. He is making just his sixth career start, his first against the Angels.
Los Angeles (35-50) were in a 2-12 tailspin after dropping the series opener at Tropicana Field on Monday. The Angels responded a 13-5 win Tuesday and a 7-2 victory Wednesday for their first two-game winning streak in 17 days.
Wednesday was another game in which so much went wrong for the Rays early that it mattered little that the bullpen stepped up with five scoreless innings, including three innings of one-hit ball from Matt Andriese, who has pitched well since transitioning from the rotation.
By the fifth inning, however, the Rays trailed 7-0, done in by three errors, matching their season high, and another ineffective outing by right-hander Drew Smyly, who is 0-6 in his last nine starts.
"We're not playing well. We're not pitching well," said Smyly, who said he can't wait for the All-Star break and a chance to reset things from his current slump. "Hopefully the second half will go better for us."
The Angels are swinging hot bats right now. They are averaging 8.7 runs per game on their current road trip while hitting .336, including a .383 average with runners in scoring position. Wednesday brought a rare bright spot from their pitching to match that, holding an opponent to two runs or fewer for just the second time in 16 games.
"If you're a team that wants to reach your goal, you need quality innings," said Angels manager Mike Scioscia, pleased with Jered Weaver, who held the Rays to one run on four hits over seven innings. "You need a pitcher to go out and throw 200 quality innings, which is something a pitcher strives for. That's what important. You can give a guy the ball, let him go out and get beat up and give you 200 innings, and that's going to have a minimum positive effect on the outcome of your season."
Both teams have one more series before the All-Star break. The Rays go to Boston, hoping to find some positive momentum to take into the break, while the Angels go to Baltimore, aiming to close out their road trip with more hitting and more wins.