Though the Tampa Bay Rays are already guaranteed a trip to the postseason, they have loftier goals in mind.
The Rays look to take another step toward the AL East title on Tuesday when they play a doubleheader against the Baltimore Orioles in the continuation of a four-game series at Camden Yards.
Tampa Bay (93-62) clinched the first playoff berth in the franchise’s 11-year history on Saturday, and inched closer to another milestone for the organization with Monday’s 4-2 victory at Baltimore (67-88).
That triumph, coupled with Boston’s 4-3 home loss to Cleveland on Monday, helped the Rays reduce their magic number for securing the East title to four. Additionally, they extended their division lead to 2 1/2 games over the second-place Red Sox with six contests remaining.
“We understand where we stand,” first baseman and AL player of the week Carlos Pena told the Rays’ official Web site. “But that’s the cool thing about this, we understand we have to come back tomorrow and just focus on the game we’re playing.”
Pena, who is hitting .318 (7-for-22) with three homers and 12 RBIs in his last eight games, notched his 100th RBI on a bases-loaded walk as Tampa Bay won for the fifth time in seven games.
Rookie David Price took a no-hitter into the fifth inning, but didn’t factor in the decision of his first major league start. He dueled with Baltimore’s Brian Bass, who was pulled after tossing 73 pitches over 4 2-3 hitless innings.
Bass’s performance, though, wasn’t enough to help Baltimore avoid its sixth straight defeat.
The Orioles have dropped nine straight and 12 of 15 games against the Rays, and things won’t get any easier as they will match up against James Shields (13-8, 3.61 ERA) in the opener of Tuesday’s twinbill.
The Rays have won each of the right-hander’s last six starts versus the Orioles - a span in which he is 3-0 with a 2.72 ERA. He limited them to a run and six hits over seven innings of a 10-4 home victory on Aug. 31, improving to 3-1 in 11 all-time outings against Baltimore.
Shields is 2-0 with a 2.76 ERA in his last four outings overall. He left without a decision on Thursday, when he allowed five earned runs and eight hits over 6 1-3 innings of an 11-8 home loss to Minnesota.
“I didn’t have my good stuff (Thursday),” Shields said. “But I battled through it. I got to the seventh inning.”
A win Tuesday would give Shields a personal best 14 wins - a total that would match Rolando Arrojo’s single-season franchise record from 1998.
He will be opposed by Garrett Olson (9-9, 6.75), who has compiled a 12.79 ERA in losing his last two starts.
The left-hander, who hasn’t dropped three consecutive starts in his brief career, was reached for three runs and four hits over 5 2-3 innings of a 3-2 loss at Toronto on Thursday.
“I thought he was feeling for it early in the game but he settled down, he made some good pitches,” Orioles manager Dave Trembley said.
Simon (0-0, 8.10) takes the ball in place of injured starter Jeremy Guthrie, who has been nursing a tired shoulder for the past few weeks, according to the Orioles’ official Web site.
The right-hander allowed two hits in 1 2-3 scoreless innings in a 12-2 home loss to Minnesota on Sept. 13.
Meanwhile, Talbot (0-0, 12.00) will make his second career appearance for Tampa Bay. The right-hander gave up four runs and five hits, while walking three in three innings of a 13-5 home loss to Boston on Sept. 15.
Talbot was recalled Sept. 13 from Triple-A Durham, where he went 13-9 with a 3.86 ERA in 28 starts.