ST. LOUIS -- Even with all the trade rumors surrounding David Price, Rays manager Joe Maddon hasn’t pulled Price aside to talk to him about how he should handle the approaching trade deadline.
“I’m really not into that stuff,” said Maddon. “I could only probably hurt that, whatever they are thinking. Furthermore, I’m not the GM. So anytime I’m speaking like that, I’m speaking for a GM, which I’m not that guy.”
The Rays' left-hander (10-7, 3.06) has been the center of trade talks for the past month. With the July 31 trade deadline a week away, Maddon said that instead of getting caught up in all the trade discussion, he’s preparing for each game like it is September baseball.
“Honestly, if you don’t attack it one day at a time, you can get into a lot of trouble,” Maddon said.
Tampa Bay's 3-0 win against the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch stadium on Wednesday night marks the team's seventh straight win, matching a seven-game streak in September 2013. If the Rays believe they have a chance to get to the postseason, the landscape of the trade deadline could change.
This is where Maddon’s experience, personality and management style benefit the Rays, because when it comes to a team finding its way into the postseason, he has seen it all.
“I was involved in two really weird moments,” Maddon said.
In 1995 Maddon was the first-base coach for the Angels. On Aug. 1, 1995, the Angels had an 11-game lead in the American League West. What followed was the biggest September collapse in major league history, and the Angels ended up losing a one-game playoff against the Mariners.
“That’s wild,” Maddon recalled about the 1995 season. “A few years ago, [the Rays] were down by nine [games back] and then get there. So I’ve seen it from both sides.”
This year, however, Maddon said the Rays got “into such a horrible hole” early in the season. On June 10, the Rays were 24-42 and last in the AL East.
“It was really weird to watch because we weren’t playing well,” said Maddon, who has managed the Rays to four postseason appearances in eight seasons. “Things were just constantly working against us. We couldn’t hit, we couldn’t make a pitch, our defense wasn’t [good], and everything was just not normal. Why? I have no idea. I can’t say much other than the fact that it is called baseball.”
Then, all of a sudden, Maddon said the team started turning it around and playing better.
“We started playing a more familiar game; hitters started to click, the guys got their swagger back,” Maddon said. “There’s a lot of time left, man. A lot of time.”
What the Rays need most is time. Because being 7.5 games back in the AL East isn’t as big of a challenge as being behind three teams: the Orioles, Yankees and Blue Jays.
A key to how the Rays' season plays out is Price. What can the 28-year-old hurler do, besides not being traded, to help the Rays get into the postseason?
“Everybody needs to continue to do what [they've] been doing,” said Price, who has a 1.72 ERA in his last 10 starts. “Nobody needs to change a thing."
Maddon says Price is a much more mature pitcher right now; he’s pitching better than ever, and he is a big factor in why the Rays' pitching staff has allowed the second-fewest runs (411) in the AL East. Since the Rays' winning streak began on July 12, their pitching staff leads the majors with a 1.33 ERA.
“The difference is he knows what he has and he’s utilizing it better,” Maddon said about the change in Price. “He’s a better pitcher. He’s more self-aware. He knows what he’s got and how to utilize it.”
If the Rays keep winning, they might play their way into making a trade impossible for executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman. The remaining schedule provides lots of room for hope. From Aug. 26 to Sept. 17, the Rays have 26 straight games against AL East opponents.
Is a trade now impossible? “My job is only to look at one side of it, and I’m paid to win,” Maddon said. “The bigger picture for me is October, it’s not 2015. So I really -- again, we’ve talked about this -- it’s my job to do my job only.”
Maddon wants the players to do their jobs, and the front office members to do theirs, and he will do his.
“What you are saying is true,” Maddon acknowledged to the media, though. “The more we win, [there is] less probability of a trade occurring.”
Instead of being sellers, maybe the Rays have turned into buyers at the trade deadline.
“I like our team,” Maddon said, recognizing that when David DeJesus, Ryan Hanigan and Wil Myers come off the disabled list, along with the young talent they already have, the Rays will be much stronger. “I’m forced to say the same thing every year at this time: I like our names.
“We have plenty to get this done with what we have on the field. We just have to get everybody playing to their abilities. I think sometimes, people are fooled by all that, having to go out and get something at the trade deadline in order to make them a contender. Sometimes, you’ve got the answers from within and just aren’t getting people the proper opportunity. So we gave our guys opportunity; that’s what we have to do. So I’m here to tell you, man, with the guys we have here, I’m plenty happy.”
Even more than being happy about the makeup of the team, Maddon, who has managed more than half the games in Rays’ history, likes how the team has turned things around.
“Everybody knows I think we can do this,” Maddon said. “I’ve been saying that for a while. I believe we can do this. I really do. I’m not just trying to make it a feel-good story. We can do this. We’ve come from a lot farther back. So why not us? We’ve done a lot of firsts around here. Why can’t we do another one this year? I firmly believe we are in this, and everybody in our front office knows how I feel. I’m more optimistic than ever right now.”