They may be in playoff contention, but the Boston Red Sox have been playing like a .500 club lately.
The Red Sox look to avoid losing their third series in as many visits to Tampa Bay this season when they conclude a three-game weekend set with the Devil Rays on Sunday.
Boston (65-44) entered the All-Star break with a 53-33 record and a three-game lead over the New York Yankees in the AL East. The Red Sox have gone just 12-11 since, though, to fall one game behind the Yankees in the division and one-half game behind the Chicago White Sox for the wild card.
Even when Boston wins, it’s not having an easy time. The Red Sox have had to come from behind in each of their last four victories, and have not won by more than a one run since July 25, when they beat Oakland 13-5.
After rallying from a two-run deficit to win Friday’s series opener 3-2, the Red Sox fell 8-5 on Saturday night. Tampa Bay closer Brian Meadows got new Boston catcher Javy Lopez to ground into a double play to escape a bases-loaded jam in the ninth inning.
“The main thing about me coming here is helping the team win,” said Lopez, who was acquired in a trade with Baltimore on Friday. “Unfortunately it didn’t happen tonight, but it’s only the second day.
“I’m glad a game like this happened early with the team rather than later. It’s going to be from now on totally different for me, hopefully.”
Red Sox left fielder Manny Ramirez homered in the eighth inning to extend his hitting streak to 21 games, a career high and also the longest active run in baseball. Ramirez’s 39 homers and 124 RBIs against Tampa Bay are the most by any opposing player in Devil Rays franchise history.
Another victory Sunday would give the Devil Rays (46-65) their fourth straight home series win over the Red Sox, with three coming this season. Tampa Bay has won 11 of its last 18 meetings with the Red Sox at Tropicana Field.
Boston has alternated wins and losses over its last nine games.
For Jason Johnson (3-11, 6.25 ERA), Sunday’s Red Sox starter, the .500 mark would represent a significant improvement. The right-hander has lost his last seven starts—four of them with Cleveland and three after Boston acquired him for future considerations—posting a 6.94 ERA and .344 opponent batting average over that span.
He made his second start with Boston on July 5 at Tampa Bay, allowing five runs—four earned—seven hits and four walks in four innings of a 5-2 defeat. Johnson is 5-5 with a 4.95 ERA in 15 career games, including 14 starts, versus the Devil Rays.
The Devil Rays counter with left-hander J.P. Howell (0-1, 14.73), who looks to rebound after losing his Tampa Bay debut Tuesday against Detroit. He gave up six runs and nine hits over 3 2-3 innings in his first outing since being called up from Triple-A Durham, a 10-4 defeat.
Howell, who has never faced the Red Sox, went 3-5 with a 6.19 ERA in 15 starts for Kansas City last season.
After dropping Saturday night’s contest to left-hander Casey Fossum, Boston is 18-18 when facing a southpaw starter this season. The Red Sox are 47-26 when the opponent starts a right-hander.
“It’s all about getting ahead of them,” Fossum said after improving to 2-0 with a 1.16 ERA in four starts against Boston this season. “These guys are very patient. Overall, I think I slowed things down when they had runners on base and controlled the game.”