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Rays Series Preview: Does anyone care the Rays are still in it?

Expect small crowds for the Royals this weekend.

Brian Blanco/Getty Images

The Rays are still competing for a playoff spot, although you wouldn't know it from the crowds that have been showing up lately. The Rays are 63-64, 2.5 games out of the final Wild Card spot, but have dropped three of their last four games. This is their first year without General Manager Andrew Friedman and manager Joe Maddon, and while the team has done a good job hanging in contention, they're also in danger of having back-to-back losing seasons for the first time since 2006-2007.

The Rays have struggled mightily on offense and are dead last in runs scored with just 3.74 per game. Tampa Bay is eleventh in home runs, walks, and slugging percentage, and have struck out the fourth-most in the American League. The team has not been very clutch, with a league-worst .676 OPS with runners in scoring position. The club has gotten an outstanding season from former Arkansas Razorback Logan Forsythe, but former All-Star Evan Longoria is a far cry from the elite player he once was.

Injuries have also hit the team hard with outfielder Desmond Jennings missing most of the season, catcher Curt Casali recently landing on the DL, and promising rookie outfielder Steven Souza currently on the disabled list with a broken hand. The team traded outfielder David DeJesus at the deadline, suggesting they are punting on this season, despite being only a few games out of a post-season spot.

The Rays are third in stolen bases, although they are successful just 67.5% of the time and are generally a poor baserunning club according to Baserunning Runs. Defensively, they are second only to the Royals, thanks largely to the amazing season by Kevin Kiermaier, who will likely rob Lorenzo Cain of a Gold Glove this year. Kiermaier is +33 in Defensive Runs Saved, lapping the field. He has already amassed 4.0 dWAR, the most by an American League outfielders since Darin Erstad in 2002. Aside from Kiermaier and second baseman Logan Forsythe, the Rays are pretty average everywhere else on the field with only shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera serving as much of a liability.

The Rays pitching is quite good, allowing just the third-most runs at 3.89 per game. The Royals will miss their ace Chris Archer, but former Royals prospect Jake Odorizzi has been nearly as good this year. Odorizzi only throws in the low 90s but has a solid cutter and sinker that has helped produce one of the lower home run rates in the league. Odorizzi has been a much better pitcher at home this year with a 2.20 ERA at Tropicana Field, striking out over a hitter per inning there.

Erasmo Ramirez spent the first six weeks shuttling between the rotation and the bullpen, but has settled in nicely in the rotation since May. Over 18 starts since joining the rotation for good, he has a 2.78 ERA, allowing a line of .211/.275/.338 to opposing hitters. He throws a good four-seam fastball with movement and has induced a fair amount of pop-ups this year. The Royals got to Nate Karns for seven runs in six innings back in July in Kansas City, and the right-hander has struggled this month with a 5.25 ERA.

Rays relievers have been middle-of-the-road in nearly every category this year. Closer Brad Boxberger has converted 31-of-35 save opportunities and struck out 11.3 hitters per-nine-innings, but has a 3.24 ERA and a 3.84 FIP. Right-hander Steve Geltz has been solid overall this year, but has allowed nine runs in 10 innings pitched this month. Southpaw specialist Xavier Cedeno is allowing lefties to hit just .220/.256/.280 against him this year.

The Rays have been pretty much a .500 team at home as well as on the road. The Royals handed it to them pretty good in a four-game sweep in Kansas City back in July, which may be fresh in the minds of both clubs. The Rays are still technically in a playoff hunt, but with crowds dwindling, players racking up disabled list time, and playing time given to scrubs like Daniel Nava and Grady Sizemore, it may be time for the Rays to start looking towards 2016.