The Rays look to close the gap in the wild-card race Wednesday night as they continue a three-game series against the last-place Orioles.
A recent five-game losing streak didn’t help the Rays (64-54) gain any ground on Texas and Boston - the current wild-card leaders - but Tampa Bay won its final two games against Toronto over the weekend before beating Baltimore 5-4 in Tuesday’s series opener.
Gabe Gross(notes) hit a two-run homer, and Pat Burrell(notes) and B.J. Upton(notes) added solo shots for the Rays, winners of six of seven at home. Tampa Bay is within three games of the Rangers and Red Sox for the AL’s final playoff spot.
“I think we should just forget everything that’s happened up to this point,” Upton said. “Hopefully that means we can get going down the stretch.”
After averaging 3.2 runs and batting .247 during its five-game skid, Tampa Bay has put up 6.0 runs and batted .340 in the last three contests.
Upton homered for the first time since June 30, collecting only his eighth RBI in 38 games. Burrell was back in the lineup after missing two games with neck stiffness and hit his fourth homer in nine contests.
The Rays send staff wins leader Jeff Niemann(notes) (10-5, 3.86 ERA) to the mound, hoping he can continue his home success. The right-hander has been very comfortable at Tropicana Field lately, going 4-0 with a 1.91 ERA in his last five starts there while walking seven and striking out 28. Niemann hasn’t received a decision in either of his last two outings - both on the road - while allowing eight runs and 12 hits in 11 2-3 innings.
He pitched into the sixth inning against the Angels last Wednesday and gave up four runs and seven hits in a 10-5 loss.
Niemann has split two decisions versus Baltimore this season - both at Camden Yards.
Matt Wieters(notes) homered and Markakis had three hits Tuesday for the Orioles (48-71), who are 8-23 since the All-Star break. Baltimore, the only team in the majors yet to win a series in the season’s second half, is 3-19 on the road against AL East opponents.
Markakis has reached base in 38 consecutive games, the longest active streak in the majors. He has multiple hits in six of his last seven games, batting .468 during that span.
The Orioles left 13 men on base Tuesday, and went 2 for 12 with runners in scoring position. They are 5 for 35 in such situations over the last five games.
Chris Tillman(notes) (1-0, 4.98) makes his fifth start for the Orioles. Since lasting 4 2-3 innings in his July 29 major league debut, the rookie right-hander has pitched at least six innings in each of his past three starts.
He earned his first win in Baltimore’s 16-6 rout of the Los Angeles Angels on Friday, allowing three earned runs and seven hits in 6 2-3 innings.