The Tampa Bay Rays started the season slowly, withstanding a couple of skids within the first three weeks. Since then, losing streaks have been few and far between.
The major league-leading Rays look to avoid dropping three in a row for the second time in two months when they conclude a two-game road set with the New York Yankees on Wednesday.
When Tampa Bay (55-34) began the season with 11 losses in 19 games, it appeared headed for yet another lost season. That stretch included losing streaks of three and four games for a franchise that has never finished with a winning record.
But the Rays have become this season’s most surprising team, leading Boston by three games in the AL East. Tampa Bay, though, saw its lead over third-place New York (48-42) fall to 7 1/2 games following a 5-0 loss on Tuesday night.
It was the second straight loss for the Rays, who haven’t lost three in a row since June 3-5. Tampa Bay’s longest losing streak before that stretch was a three-game skid from May 2-4.
“We know they are a good team. They can make a run at any time,” Tampa Bay outfielder Carl Crawford said. “But it doesn’t matter who we lose to. It’s just a loss and we try to forget it and move on to the next game.”
The Rays will need to get their bats back on track in order to avoid another defeat. They were held to four hits in the series opener, and have been held to two runs or less in three of their last four games versus New York.
Tampa Bay had an outstanding game at the plate on May 26 against Sidney Ponson (5-1, 4.19 ERA), who will take the mound for the Yankees on Wednesday. He was pitching for the Rangers then, and allowed five runs and 12 hits in a 7-3 win for the Rays.
The right-hander is 8-9 with a 4.29 ERA in 24 starts and one relief appearance versus Tampa Bay.
Ponson is coming off his worst start of the season, surrendering seven runs and nine hits in five-plus innings and not getting a decision in an 18-7 victory over Texas last Wednesday night.
The Rays will counter with Edwin Jackson (5-6, 4.08 ERA), who is 1-0 with a 2.57 ERA in his last three starts and has matched his win total from last season. The 24-year-old right-hander didn’t get his first win in 2007 until June 24, and finished 5-15 with a 5.76 ERA in 31 starts.
Jackson is 1-1 with a 3.00 ERA in three starts versus the Yankees this season, and 2-2 with a 4.42 ERA in six starts and four relief appearances against them all-time.
In his last start, the right-hander gave up two runs in eight innings to earn a win as Tampa Bay beat Kansas City 11-2 on Friday night.
Jackson will be facing a Yankees team that has won three straight for the first time since a seven-game run from June 12-19.
“People make a big deal, obviously, because it’s Tampa,” New York All-Star shortstop Derek Jeter said. “Every game is big. We just so happen to be playing them.”
Jeter came up big Tuesday, lining an early go-ahead double, then making a stellar play in the seventh inning that preserved a two-run lead. He is 4-for-8 with three RBIs in his last two games against the Rays.
Bobby Abreu, meanwhile, went 2-for-4 after going hitless in 15 at-bats over his previous four games. The right fielder is 1-for-16 (.063) against Jackson.