Thanks to their strong play on the road recently, the Tampa Bay Rays have opened their largest lead in the AL East this season.
The Rays look to sweep the Chicago White Sox for the first time when they close a three-game series on Sunday.
Tampa Bay (79-49), which has the best record in the AL, took a 5 1/2-game lead over the Boston Red Sox on Saturday after rallying to beat the White Sox (73-55) 5-3. The first 17 hitters for Tampa Bay went down against Javier Vazquez, but the Rays came back by scoring four runs in the eighth, with Carlos Pena delivering a go-ahead, two-run single off reliever Matt Thornton.
Akinori Iwamura also drove in two runs for Tampa Bay, which has won 18 of 23 with 11 of those wins coming on the road.
“The phrase that we have is just keep coming,” Pena said. “Keep coming, keep coming, keep coming. At-bat after at-bat, at-bat after at-bat.”
Tampa Bay improved to 32-31 on the road this season, including 11-3 in its last 14. The Rays, who have never swept the White Sox in Chicago, also haven’t swept a three-game series on the road against an AL opponent this season. They swept the Florida Marlins in June during interleague play.
The White Sox, meanwhile, are on the verge of being swept at home for the first time this year despite Jermaine Dye’s two homers Saturday. Although Vazquez was charged with four runs, manager Ozzie Guillen blamed the bullpen, which also allowed six runs over 2 2-3 innings of Friday’s 9-4 loss.
“I think the bullpen, the last few games, they fell,” he told the White Sox’s official Web site. “(The bullpen) is what it is. We’ve got to use it the best way we can, and hopefully those guys respond.”
The White Sox are in second place in the AL Central behind the Minnesota Twins. They came into this series having won five straight overall and six in a row at home.
Chicago tries to avoid the sweep when it faces Tampa Bay’s Andy Sonnanstine (13-6, 4.37 ERA) in Sunday’s finale.
Sonnanstine is looking to win his fourth consecutive decision and third straight start. On Monday against the Angels, he pitched 5 1-3 innings, allowing three runs and five hits in the 6-4 win. He has a 2.92 ERA in his last four starts.
The right-hander is 1-0 with a 2.14 ERA in three starts against the White Sox, who he has never faced in Chicago. In two starts against the White Sox this season, he’s 1-0 with a 1.84 ERA.
Mark Buehrle (11-10, 3.91) counters for the White Sox, trying to win his fourth straight start. He struggled Monday against Seattle, allowing five runs and 11 hits over 5 2-3 innings, but he benefited from the White Sox’s run support in a 13-5 win.
“That’s the reason why I hate this game sometimes,” said Buehrle, who improved to 8-3 with a 3.06 ERA in 13 home starts despite the shaky start. “When you go out there and make your pitches and they find holes, infield hits, bunts, right over the infielder’s head. That’s why this game sometimes is frustrating.”
Buehrle is 6-2 with a 4.39 ERA in nine starts and five relief appearances against the Rays, but he’s 0-1 with a 5.54 ERA in two starts against them this season.