The Boston Red Sox have been hot recently, but a trip to Tropicana Field may quickly cool them off.
The Tampa Bay Rays look to cut into Boston’s lead in the AL wild card Tuesday, when the two clubs open a key three-game series.
The Red Sox (76-54), who have won three straight and 10 of 13, have a five-game lead over the third-place Rays for the AL wild card. That momentum may be in jeopardy, however, given Boston’s struggles at Tropicana Field over the last two years.
Tampa Bay (71-59) has won eight of 12 meetings between the teams this season, including five of six at Tropicana Field. The Rays have outscored Boston 34-11 in those home victories, and they’ll be looking to win there for the 14th time in 16 games against the Red Sox over the last two seasons.
“It hasn’t been real pleasant,” manager Terry Francona told the Red Sox’s official Web site of his team’s visits to Tropicana Field. “Those cowbells stay with you for about a week.”
Francona is hoping his team will be able to build off a sweep of Toronto over the weekend, capped by a 7-0 victory Sunday. They’ve averaged 7.3 runs over the last 13 games. Jacoby Ellsbury(notes) is hitting .414 with four doubles and two home runs over the last seven games, but he’s hitting only .228 against the Rays.
“I think it’s a big thing to go in there and win that first game,” he said. “For us on this road trip, we just have to win each series and come back home healthy and keep doing what we’re doing.”
Tampa Bay, meanwhile, comes in after a 4-3 road trip. It split a four-game series with Detroit over the weekend, concluding with an 11-7 victory Monday. Pena hit his AL-leading 38th homer during a six-run first inning and finished with four RBIs.
“I don’t know if it gets any bigger,” Longoria said of the upcoming series. “Today is a great way to head home. It should be fun.”
Lester doesn’t have a decision in five of his last six starts. After recording a victory against Toronto on Aug. 20, he allowed three runs in 6 2-3 innings of a 6-3 win over the White Sox on Tuesday.
The left-hander is 4-2 with a 4.66 ERA against the Rays, but he’s 0-2 with a 8.22 ERA in three starts this season, with Boston losing all of them.
Tampa Bay will hand the ball to Andy Sonnanstine(notes) (6-7, 6.61), who is being recalled from Triple-A Durham to start after the Rays traded Scott Kazmir(notes) over the weekend. It may be a short stay, though, as manager Joe Maddon has not committed to more than one start for the right-hander.
Sonnanstine won two of his last three starts in June before being demoted. He gave up four runs and struck out seven over 5 1-3 innings of a 10-4 win over Philadelphia on June 25.
Sonnanstine is 2-1 with a 5.08 ERA in seven starts against the Red Sox. He has a 0.96 ERA in his last three starts against them, including allowing two runs in 5 2-3 innings of a 6-2 win on May 1.