Tampa Bay (44-35) at Toronto (41-38)

Mostly Cloudy Currently: Toronto, ON
Temp: 81° F
  • Game info: 1:07 pm EDT Wed Jul 1, 2009
  • TV: FSFL, RSN
Preview | Box Score | Recap

The Tampa Bay Rays were struggling to reach .500 a little over a month ago. Now it appears the defending AL champions won’t have to concern themselves with the break-even mark for the rest of the season.

Baseball’s hottest team looks to extend a season-high seven-game winning streak Wednesday as the Rays complete a three-game series against the slumping Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Centre.

This season figured to be a challenging one for the Rays (44-35) due to the weight of expectations following last year’s remarkable run to the World Series. Tampa Bay, though, probably didn’t expect to be four games under .500 and fourth in the AL East on May 28, but that slow start has been all but erased by a terrific month of play.

The Rays have won 21 of 29 to move a season-best nine games over .500 and are now four games behind East-leading Boston. The seven-game streak matches the second-longest in franchise history.

Tampa Bay stayed hot with a 4-1 victory Tuesday as B.J. Upton(notes), Carl Crawford(notes) and Willy Aybar(notes) hit solo homers in support of Matt Garza’s(notes) seven strong innings.

The three home runs gave the Rays a franchise-record 41 in June. They are the only team in the majors with more than 100 homers (105) and 100 steals (121).

Crawford is batting .459 (17 for 37) with two homers and eight RBIs during a nine-game hitting streak.

Tampa Bay third baseman Evan Longoria(notes) was held out of the starting lineup Tuesday to rest his tight left hamstring but he pinch-hit in the eighth and flied out.

“I have no solid plan in mind,” Rays manager Joe Maddon told the team’s official Web site about playing Longoria. “Just to really talk to him a lot, pay attention to the day, see who we’re facing and see if it’s a good time to do it or not, that kind of stuff.”

Toronto (41-38) has been held to six runs during a four-game losing streak and has dropped 24 of its last 38 contests.

“Some of the guys are hitting but the guys that we need to drive in runs are not swinging the bats at all,” Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston said. “We’ll think about doing something (Wednesday), trying to get guys in the right spots.”

James Shields(notes) (6-5, 3.41 ERA) looks to continue his run of solid outings for Tampa Bay. The right-hander pitched into the seventh inning for the eighth consecutive start Friday against Florida, allowing three runs and nine hits before giving up a game-tying homer to Hanley Ramirez(notes). The Rays scored four times in the eighth en route to a 7-3 victory, their fifth win in six games with Shields on the mound.

Shields is 3-1 with a 3.05 ERA in his past six starts, five coming at home.

He has lost his last two decisions to the Blue Jays but is 4-2 with a 3.07 ERA in eight starts against them.

Lyle Overbay(notes) is 7 for 20 (.350) with two home runs versus Shields.

Rookie Ricky Romero(notes) (5-3, 3.20) counters for Toronto following a brilliant performance. The left-hander held Philadelphia hitless for six innings Friday in a 6-1 victory before giving up a leadoff hit to Chase Utley(notes) in the seventh. Romero left after seven scoreless innings, walking one and striking out seven.

That was the fifth straight effective start for Romero, who is 3-1 with a 2.36 ERA during that span while pitching at least 6 1-3 innings in each outing.

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Starting Pitchers

J. Shields SD vs. R. Romero Tor
11-12 Record 13-9
4.14 ERA 4.30
167 K 141
52 BB 79
1.32 WHIP 1.52

Scoreboard

Wednesday, Jul 1