The Tampa Bay Rays have been one of the biggest surprises in baseball. In spite of their success, though, they have not been impressive in their recent series openers.
The AL East-leading Rays look for a rare win in a series opener when they begin a three-game set against the slumping Texas Rangers on Friday.
Tampa Bay (73-47) has already surpassed the franchise’s record for victories in a season, and is striving for its first postseason berth with a three-game lead over second-place Boston in the East.
The Rays are coming off a 7-6, 12-inning victory over Oakland on Thursday, as they improved to 5-2 on their 10-game road trip.
Carlos Pena led off the 12th with a homer, giving him 23 on the season, and six in his last 14 games.
“This type of win is what’s been happening since early in the season when we started win a lot of games late,” said Cliff Floyd, who walked four times and scored four runs Thursday. “We’ve got our confidence up and we believe as long as we go on that field we’ve got a chance to win.”
Tampa Bay has won 12 of 15 games, but all three losses came in series openers. The Rays have dropped five of their last six series openers, and their last six of them on the road, scoring seven runs in those games.
The Rays will try to get things turned around against the Rangers (61-61), who have a major league-worst 5.45 ERA.
Texas is coming off a 10-0 loss to Boston, and was pounded for 37 runs in getting swept by the Red Sox in three games. The Rangers have lost seven of their last eight games, and are in danger of dropping under .500 for the first since they were 37-38 on June 20.
“Pitching, pitching, pitching,” Rangers manager Ron Washington said was the word that described a 1-5 road trip. “Of course you’re embarrassed. We’re all embarrassed because we feel we’re better than that.”
For Friday’s opener, Texas is expected to activate Kevin Millwood (6-6, 5.40 ERA) from the disabled list.
In his last start on July 23 against the Chicago White Sox, Millwood left after 1 2-3 innings with a strained right groin and was placed on the DL three days later. The right-hander made a rehab start for Double-A Frisco on Sunday, and allowed two runs and five hits in four innings.
The 12-year veteran went 0-2 with a 8.78 ERA in his final three starts before going on the DL, and has not won since July 6 at Baltimore.
Millwood has not faced the Rays since Aug. 23, 2006, and is 1-1 with a 6.63 ERA in three career starts versus Tampa Bay.
The Rays counter with Matt Garza (9-7, 3.88), who has been slumping a bit lately.
After throwing a five-hitter in a 3-0 win at Toronto on July 29, Garza has allowed nine runs in 10 2-3 innings in his two starts this month. The right-hander gave up five runs - all in the first two innings - and 10 hits in 5 2-3 innings of an 8-7, 11-inning win over Seattle on Saturday.
Garza is 2-1 with a 2.95 ERA in three career starts against the Rangers in his career, and has faced them twice this year. On May 28, Garza gave up two runs and four hits in eight innings of a 5-3 victory, and allowed three runs and six hits in four innings of a 6-3 loss on June 8.
The Rays have won four of six over the Rangers this season.