The Tampa Bay Rays have reclaimed first place in the AL East for the first time in a week, but they have reason to be concerned.
Their top hitter is out and one of their best pitchers is struggling mightily.
Tampa Bay (92-61) moved one-half game ahead of New York in the East with a 5-3 win over the Mariners on Friday, coupled with the Yankees’ 10-8 loss to Boston. It was the third straight victory for the Rays, who have a magic number of three to clinch a playoff spot.
“Our goal is to have the best record, our goal is to have the home-field advantage and our goal is to win the World Series,” manager Joe Maddon said.
The Rays, back atop the division for the first time since Sept. 16, won the opener without Longoria, who will miss this series with a left quadriceps strain. The three-time All-Star, hitting .294 with 22 homers and 104 RBIs, was hurt making a defensive play in Thursday’s 10-3 win over New York.
The team hopes he’ll be back by the middle of next week.
“As of right now we’re in a good spot as far as us going forward,” Longoria said. “I feel better, which is promising. I don’t see it lingering any more than five, six days.”
The loss of Longoria isn’t the Rays’ only concern as they try to hold off New York and clinch the second playoff berth in franchise history
Garza (14-9, 4.01 ERA), who is second on the team in wins, was pitching brilliantly just three weeks ago but has had no luck recently.
Garza was tagged for seven runs - five earned - and eight hits in five innings in Monday’s 8-6 loss to the Yankees, falling to 0-2 with a 10.93 ERA in his last three starts. The right-hander, who threw the franchise’s first no-hitter two months ago, was 3-0 with a 0.99 ERA in his previous four outings.
With the playoffs looming, the Rays hope Garza can get back on track against a light-hitting Seattle team that is on pace to score the fewest runs in franchise history in a non-strike season. Garza has also fared well against the Mariners (58-95) this year, going 1-0 with a 1.93 ERA in two starts.
Fister, who had the AL’s third-best ERA at 2.45 before landing on the disabled list June 6 with right shoulder fatigue, faced a couple of jams Sunday against Texas and did a good job of limiting the damage. He gave up nine hits in seven innings, but just one run in a 2-1 victory.
The right-hander has won two of his last three outings after winning once in his first 13 starts off the DL.
“It’s pretty much just working the ball back down in the zone for him,” Mariners interim manager Daren Brown said. “I think some of it’s just buckling down a little bit and making pitches.”
In his only start against Tampa Bay this year, Fister allowed one run and four hits in five innings of a 4-3 victory on May 14.