The reality for the Tampa Bay Rays is the AL East crown is out of reach and they'll have to focus on the wild card.
The Rays have matched their largest division deficit of the season and continue to struggle on this 10-game trip ahead of Saturday night's contest against a Seattle Mariners team giving starter James Paxton his major league debut.Tampa Bay (77-63) fell for the seventh time in nine games and dropped to 2-6 on the trip after Friday's 6-4 loss in the opener of this three-game set.The Rays, tied for the division lead Aug. 24, have dropped 7 1/2 games behind first-place Boston -- their worst deficit since May 2. Their lead for the AL's second wild card was cut to two games by Baltimore and Cleveland, with the New York Yankees 2 1/2 games back.Evan Longoria, who leads Tampa Bay with 72 RBIs, has now gone nine games without driving in a run with seven hits in 34 at-bats.Ben Zobrist is 11 for 32 in this nine-game stretch for the Rays and James Loney is 9 for 27 in those games, and each has four RBIs.Tampa Bay is last in the majors with a .146 average with runners in scoring position since its woes began Aug. 29.The Rays will try to be more productive Saturday against Paxton, who will get the start after he went 8-11 with a 4.45 ERA in 28 games -- 26 starts -- for Triple-A Tacoma. He becomes the fourth rookie pitcher to start for the Mariners."I feel like I've kind of done my part in the minor leagues, learned a lot of things," Paxton told the Mariners' official website. "I definitely feel like I'm ready for a shot up here and I'm just really excited about it and I'm ready to go."The 24-year-old left-hander born in suburban Vancouver is a 2010 fourth-round draft pick by Seattle who pitched in college at Kentucky."I'm excited, excited to watch him," manager Eric Wedge said. "I know he's excited to pitch, as well he should be. It's always fun to watch a debut, especially when it's a starting pitcher."Seattle (64-77) ended a six-game home skid Friday as Justin Smoak came through with a go-ahead two-run double in the eighth inning. Raul Ibanez homered for the second straight game and rookie Brad Miller added two hits.Miller has five homers -- two off Chris Archer (8-6, 3.14 ERA), who starts Friday for the Rays. Archer matched a season high by allowing five runs over five innings in a 5-4 home defeat to the Mariners on Aug. 13.The Tampa Bay right-hander also gave up five runs over 3 2/3 innings Monday in an 11-2 loss to the Los Angeles Angels."When I take the mound, I definitely don't expect to go less than four innings," he said. "I should have done a lot better."