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Updated: June 21, 2010, 2:10 PM ET

Rays' flaws starting to show through

By Steve Berthiaume
ESPN
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On Sunday, for the first time since April 22, a span of exactly 60 days, the Tampa Bay Rays are a second-place team. Granted, the Rays' 42 wins would still make them division leaders everywhere but the AL East, but some of the undercoat on that flashy paint job might be beginning to show.

Tampa Bay is only 8-9 in June and just wrapped up a six-game road trip in which it dropped two of three in Atlanta and in Florida. The Rays' struggles have quickly changed the makeup of their division. On May 23, Tampa Bay led the Yankees by six games and was 8½ games ahead of Boston. The Rays have gone 10-15 since. What's happened?

Earlier this season, we were all marveling at the way the Rays played the game. They were the first baseball team in recent memory that seemed to beat you with pure athleticism rather than mashing long home runs or blowing you away with unhittable pitching. Tampa Bay ran wild, and it was great fun to watch, like a basketball team that sprinted up and down the floor from baseline to baseline. In fact, Carl Crawford told us on "Baseball Tonight" that the Rays thought of themselves as the Phoenix Suns of baseball. Now it seems as if the speed Tampa Bay was using as a genuine weapon might have instead been a necessity to cover up weaknesses elsewhere.

Yes, Carlos Pena has 15 home runs, but he's also leading the American League in strikeouts with 77 K's in 240 at-bats. Pena is hitting only .200, which is actually an improvement; it's the first time Pena has been above .199 since May 6. Pena is in the final season of a three-year, $24.1 million contract -- and, like Crawford, who also is about to hit the free-agent market, Pena's future in Tampa seems in flux, much like the hitters around his cleanup spot in the Rays' batting order. Coming out of spring training, Ben Zobrist was moved to third in the order and hit .297 in 41 starts there before injuries and holes elsewhere led to a change, with Evan Longoria moving back to the No. 3 spot. Since May 28, Zobrist has hit virtually everywhere but third and done well, batting .316. After that, there has been too little production elsewhere.

If there's a player on the Rays' current roster most baseball people consider to be "movable," it's B.J. Upton, who's hitting only .230. Several key players, guys who are frequent faces in the Tampa Bay lineup, are hitting even less than that. Jason Bartlett, Kelly Shoppach, Gabe Kapler and Dioner Navarro all have averages south of .230.

David Price pitched well in Sunday's loss at Florida, but he missed a chance to take the American League lead in wins. This is where the relative youth of Tampa Bay's pitching staff creates a question about maintaining a high performance level all the way through the 162-game grind. On May 18, the Rays were leading the majors in ERA at 2.69. Going into Price's loss to the Marlins, the Tampa Bay ERA had ballooned up to 4.82 since May 18, the sixth-worst in baseball.

The Rays are only one game behind the Yankees for the AL East lead. They're still enormously talented and will close the season's first half by playing 13 of their remaining 19 games at home before the All-Star break. Yes, they are almost certainly among the five best teams in baseball, but the idea that they are a guaranteed lock for an American League playoff spot is anything but certain.

Steve Berthiaume is an analyst for "Baseball Tonight."

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