After looking like one of the strongest teams in the majors just last week, the Tampa Bay Rays have suddenly fallen on hard times. They’re not exactly in the best place for breaking out of their skid, either.
The AL East-leading Rays look to avoid dropping a fifth straight game for the first time all season as they try to win in Cleveland for the first time in nearly three years when they continue their four-game series Friday against the lowly Indians.
Tampa Bay (55-36) beat Kansas City 9-2 on Sunday to win its season-high seventh straight, and 11th in 12 games to build a five-game lead atop the East, but very little has gone right since.
The Rays lost Thursday’s series opener in Cleveland 13-2 to match a season-high four-game losing streak, as their offense has been in a rut.
Tampa Bay has scored seven runs and is batting only .182 (25-for-137) with 37 strikeouts during its losing streak, as its division lead has shrunk to just 1 1/2 games over second-place Boston.
“We’re getting into swinging for the five-run homer instead of playing offense,” Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon said. “We’re not getting enough runners on base. I believe everybody is trying to hit the ball out of the ballpark. We have to get away from that.”
A trip to Progressive Field should be enough to help the Rays end their slide, as the Indians have the second-worst record in the AL, but Tampa Bay has had no luck in Cleveland (38-53) lately.
The Rays have been outscored 61-22 in losing their last 10 games at Cleveland, where they have not won since Sept. 29, 2005.
The Indians ended their own 10-game losing streak Thursday - their longest since 1979 - as Ben Francisco had a career-high four RBIs and hit one of Cleveland’s four home runs.
“It feels pretty good - a lot better than what we had been doing. That stunk,” said Casey Blake, who homered and had three RBIs.
The Indians have lost 16 of 21 as they’re stumbling through a disappointing season, but Friday’s scheduled starter - All-Star Cliff Lee (11-2, 2.43 ERA) - has been one of their few bright spots.
Lee came into Sunday’s game at Minnesota with a 1.82 ERA in his previous five starts, but suffered his first defeat since May 18 after allowing four runs in seven innings of a 4-3 loss.
Lee hopes to get back on track at home, where he is 4-0 with a 1.84 ERA in six outings this season.
The left-hander has a 1.85 ERA in five home starts against the Rays in his career, and this will be his first against them this season. He is 4-2 with a 2.52 ERA in eight career starts against Tampa Bay.
The Rays counter with James Shields (7-5, 3.64), who tries to win his fourth straight start.
Shields allowed two runs and four hits with eight strikeouts in Sunday’s win over the Royals, and has a 2.21 ERA during his three-game winning streak. He has not won four starts in a row since June 5-21, 2006, as a rookie.
The right-hander is also looking for his first career win over Cleveland. This will be his first start of the year against the Indians, and in three games against them last year he went 0-1 with a 2.66 ERA.