Facing Tampa Bay six times over the next 12 games gives the Boston Red Sox an ideal chance to gain significant round in the playoff race.
It’s also a great opportunity for the Rays to create breathing room in their bid for a postseason berth.
The Red Sox (73-55) are 5 1/2 games behind the Rays (78-49) and New York Yankees, who are tied atop the division with the best record in baseball. Tampa Bay and New York also lead the AL wild card with Boston currently the closest pursuer.
Boston could reduce those deficits over the next 13 days. After this series ends Sunday, the Red Sox and Rays will meet for the final time in the regular season from Sept. 6-8 at Fenway Park.
Boston has dropped eight of 12 against Tampa Bay, but is 3-3 at Tropicana Field.
“We have to go to (St. Petersburg) and at least win the series,” third baseman Adrian Beltre(notes) told the Red Sox’s official website. “I think we’re trying to go in there looking for a sweep, so we can get a better chance to cut it down.
“They’re playing really good baseball - Tampa Bay and the Yankees - so we have to try and do our stuff and win games, because it’s been tough. They’re not budging.”
The Red Sox failed to capitalize on losses by the division co-leaders Wednesday. Boston fell 4-2 to last-place Seattle after winning the opener of a doubleheader 5-3.
Lester is 7-3 with a 4.18 ERA in 14 starts against Tampa Bay, including 3-0 with a 3.60 ERA in five road games against the Rays. The left-hander won his last outing there May 25 by yielding one hit with nine strikeouts and five walks in six innings of a 2-0 victory.
A return to Tropicana Field could be what Lester needs to rebound from the shortest start of his five-year career. He allowed a personal-high nine runs in two innings of a 16-2 loss to Toronto last Friday.
The Rays also hope a return home can help after their most lopsided defeat of the season, 12-3 to the Los Angeles Angels on Wednesday that snapped a four-game winning streak. Tampa Bay has won 19 of its last 24 at Tropicana Field — a stretch that started with a three-game sweep of Boston from July 5-7.
Price (15-5, 2.97) will try to continue his own home success. The left-hander is 7-1 with a 2.11 ERA in 11 starts there, including a 6-4 win over Boston on July 7 when he yielded two runs and struck out 10 in 7 2-3 innings.
All three of Price’s starts against the Red Sox have come at home, and he’s 2-1 with a 3.79 ERA.
However, Price has no record and a 4.50 ERA in two starts since setting the franchise record for wins in a season on Aug. 9. He was tagged for four runs and six hits in six innings of a 5-4 win over Oakland on Saturday.