The Tampa Bay Rays could clinch a playoff spot by the end of Sunday, but their focus remains on continuing to play well enough to win the AL East.
The Rays look to win their fifth straight and tighten their grip on the division lead Sunday when they face the light-hitting Seattle Mariners at Tropicana Field.
Tampa Bay (93-61) increased its lead over the slumping Yankees to 1 1/2 games with a 9-1 win Saturday. Matt Garza(notes) pitched seven strong innings, Carl Crawford(notes) had three hits and Matt Joyce(notes) homered during a four-run first.
Ironically, the Rays, who have a one-game lead over Minnesota for the best record in the AL, will need the Yankees to win Sunday to help them clinch a spot in the playoffs. A victory by Tampa Bay and a loss by Boston, which is facing New York later that night, will allow the Rays to secure the second postseason berth in franchise history.
“First things first, we’ve got to win,” B.J. Upton(notes) told the Rays’ official website. “Whatever happens (Sunday) night, we’ll see. We’ve got to take care of business and do what we need to do first.”
The Rays, who are 7-1 against the Mariners (58-96) this season, have outscored their last four opponents 31-9. Their starting pitchers are 3-0 with a 3.00 ERA during that span, a very encouraging sign after the rotation went 2-6 with a 6.14 ERA in the previous 16 games.
“We know what we’re after,” manager Joe Maddon said. “It’s fun to watch. The way we’re going about business right now, I couldn’t be happier.”
“First inning, I made two or three bad pitches,” said Shields, who is 0-2 with a 6.86 ERA in his last four starts. “You let five runs in the first inning, that’s definitely not doing my job.”
However, the right-hander is 1-0 with a 2.25 ERA in two starts against Seattle this season. He didn’t earn a decision May 15 at home, giving up two runs and striking out 10 in eight innings of a 3-2 win.
Seattle has lost 12 of 15, batting .220 while averaging 2.4 runs during that stretch. The Mariners are in danger of losing 100 games for the second time in three seasons.
French gave up five runs and three homers in seven innings of a 5-3 loss to Toronto on Tuesday. He’s allowed six homers in his last three starts while going 0-2 with a 6.05 ERA.
The left-hander is making his first start against the Rays and he’ll especially need to be careful with Crawford, who is 15 for 36 over the last eight games with seven RBIs.