ST. PETERSBURG -- Coming into its current homestand, Tampa Bay had lost five of six. After dropping the first two games back at Tropicana Field, the chances of going to the playoffs were in serious jeopardy.
That's when manager Joe Maddon told his team to "put the blinders" on and just focus on itself, not the other teams in the standings. He added that the Rays had to go 1-0 each day, and they've done it four times since then, helping the club shrink the deficit to the second Wild Card slot to 3 1/2 games entering Sunday.
"You've got to focus on today -- per at bat, per pitch, whatever," Maddon said after an 11-5 win on Saturday. "That's the big difference. It's no big secret, we've been in the moment a whole lot better."
The Rays hitters have certainly stepped up their performance during the four-game winning streak, scoring 43 runs in that span, the most in team history over four games.
Maddon said the difference was that players are simply swinging at strikes and taking balls, and it's helped them earn a collective .381 average (56-for-147), with 28 extra-base hits -- including nine home runs.
"We understand that we've got to go out and win every game," said Evan Longoria, who hit one of four homers Saturday. "We really don't have any pressure on us. We don't have anybody crawling up our tail, we're just able to focus on the people in front of us."