As the Rays continue their battle for first place in the AL East, they can deal the Red Sox’s postseason hopes another devastating blow during a three-game series starting Monday night at Fenway Park.
Tampa Bay (83-53) fell 2 1/2 games behind New York in the division over the weekend, dropping two of three to Baltimore. The Rays lost the last two games and missed a chance to cut into the deficit Sunday when the Yankees lost.
Tampa Bay gave up eight runs in each of the final two games to the last-place Orioles, suffering an 8-7 defeat Sunday despite hitting four home runs.
While the Rays fell further out of first, they padded their wild-card lead over the Red Sox (76-61), who were swept in three games at home by Chicago. Tampa Bay is seven games ahead of the White Sox in the wild-card race and 7 1/2 ahead of Boston.
“It’s not about looking back at (the Red Sox), it’s about looking forward at the Yankees,” manager Joe Maddon told the Rays’ official website. “I want us to keep in mind that we’re trying to win the division, period. It’s not about worrying about the Red Sox catching us, it’s about us catching the Yankees, and I would prefer that kind of outlook.”
The Rays have gone 5-1 at Fenway Park this season and lead the season series 10-5. Tampa Bay took two of three in the last matchup Aug. 27-29 at Tropicana Field.
After failing to get a quality start over the weekend, Tampa Bay will hand the ball to Jeff Niemann(notes) (10-5, 3.97 ERA), who struggled for the second straight time since coming off the disabled list Tuesday. He gave up seven runs in five innings of a 13-5 loss to Toronto.
In his previous outing, he allowed 10 runs in 3 1-3 innings of a 12-3 loss to Los Angeles on Aug. 25.
The right-hander, however, has pitched well against the Red Sox this year, going 2-0 with a 1.38 ERA in two starts.
He’ll look to continue a stretch of strong Tampa Bay pitching against Boston. Rays starters have gone 3-1 with a 2.36 ERA while the club has won four of the last five meetings.
The Red Sox have lost six of eight and suffered a stunning 7-5 loss Sunday. Chicago scored four runs in the ninth inning off Jonathan Papelbon(notes), who was charged with his seventh blown save of the season. Robert Manuel(notes), the second reliever to follow Papelbon, walked in two with the bases loaded.
The left-hander wasn’t dominant in his last outing Wednesday, allowing five runs and eight hits in six innings, but won 9-6 at Baltimore.
Lester is 2-1 with a 3.32 ERA in three starts against the Rays this year, and 8-3 with a 3.86 ERA in 15 career matchups with them. He has won four of his last five starts versus Tampa Bay, giving up two runs or fewer in those victories.
Lester, though, is 4-3 with a 4.50 ERA against the Rays at Fenway, and he’s lost his last four starts at home with a 7.71 ERA.