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Maddon, Rays remain optimistic they can turn disappointing season around and make playoffs

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - It will take a historical turnaround, but Joe Maddon believes the last-place Tampa Bay Rays can still make the playoffs.

No major league team has fallen as far as 18 games under .500 and rebounded to earn a post-season berth in the same year. The ever-optimistic manager of the team with baseball's worst record insists the underachieving Rays are capable.

Tampa Bay lost 14 of 15 games to dip to 24-42 on June 10, its lowest point since the end of 2007, the season before they began a stretch in which the made the playoffs four of six seasons.

They entered Tuesday night's game against AL East rival Baltimore 15 games under .500, winners of four of their previous five — 13 games behind first-place Toronto.

"I look at this as an opportunity to do something unique," Maddon said, adding that getting back into the race likely will require the Rays at least get back to the break even mark of 50-50 after 100 games.

That means a club that's yet to have a winning streak of more than four games would have to play at a .759 clip over the next month to achieve that goal.

They'd have to go 26-11 to remain at .500 at the end of July, 53-38 to maintain the pace to end of the season and 62-29 to win 90 games for the sixth time in seven seasons.

And even that might not be good enough to overcome a slow start that no one saw coming when management opted to not trade 2012 AL Cy Young Award winner David Price, instead signing him to a $14 million, one-year deal and also stretching the budget to keep most of the team's everyday lineup intact.

Injuries that have forced three members of one of the top rotations in the majors have contributed to the team's woes, but so have an anemic offence and the struggles of off-season acquisition Grant Balfour, who lost the closer's role earlier this month.

The team scored 35 runs while batting .099 (10-101) with runners in scoring position during worst 15-game stretch since 2007, yet Maddon and executive vice-president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman remain confident that the right players are in place to turn things around.

"If we didn't believe in the talent we have here, it would be a totally different mindset," Friedman said. "Nothing that's transpired fundamentally changes the way we view thebindividual players or the collection of guys as a whole."

Maddon, who's in his ninth season, has drawn some criticism from fans for not being more critical of the team's performance.

While conceding the Rays — at least for the moment — have earned the tag of "worst team in baseball," Madden is adamant it's a label they won't carry much longer.

"I'm really very optimistic, primarily because we have not even come close to playing our best game," the manager said.

"There are a lot of people who want to present you with different gifts right now. The gift of doubt, the gift of anger, and I really don't want to accept those gifts," Maddon added. "I like to give my gift of optimism, and my gift of trust, and my gift of adhering to what's worked in the past and believing it will happen again."

While no team has overcome falling 18 games under .500 to make the playoffs in the same year, the 1914 Boston Braves were 16 under through June 8 before going 82-31 down the stretch to reach the post-season, where they then swept the Philadelphia Athletics in the World Series.

The Rays are in the middle of a stretch in which they will play 18 of 21 games at home, so the time to start making a move is now, Maddon said.

"To wait until the All-Star break would be too late. It's still one game at a time. I'm still sticking by that, but we've got to get on a roll now," the manager added.

"My expectation is not to watch playoff games at home. ... I'm optimistic, and I'm really looking forward to the challenge, quite frankly."

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