The first sign the Tampa Bay Rays were ready to dismiss their early struggles came with a two-game sweep of Boston in mid-April, a series that left the Red Sox wondering what it would take for them to do the same.
If the past two months are any indication, they’ve got it all figured out.
Baseball’s best team since starting 2-10, Boston has been on an offensive tear during a winning streak it’ll look to stretch to 10 on Tuesday night in Carl Crawford’s(notes) first game as a visitor at Tropicana Field.
The Red Sox (39-26) and Rays came into their brief set at Fenway Park on April 11 a combined 3-15, but Tampa Bay began a 22-7 stretch with a pair of victories over Boston.
It took the Red Sox a few more days to get going, but they haven’t slowed down since they did. Boston is a major league-best 37-16 since April 16, with four separate winning streaks of at least five games.
The latest has featured a few victories with rec-league softball numbers. The Red Sox haven’t scored fewer than five runs during this streak, which reached nine after two weekend wins in Toronto by a combined 30-5 score.
Boston has scored 83 runs since starting its outburst, a total unmatched during a nine-game winning streak since the 2006 White Sox scored 83 from June 15-24, 2006.
“That’s why everybody was going crazy when we were losing all those games at the beginning of the season,” David Ortiz(notes) said after homering for the fourth time in six games during Sunday’s 14-1 win. “Because you go position by position, this team can match against anybody.”
Ortiz has 15 RBIs during the nine-game run, Boston’s longest since winning 11 straight April 15-27, 2009. That’s one more than major league RBI leader Adrian Gonzalez(notes) (60), who tries to become the first Red Sox hitter to drive in a run in 10 straight games since Manny Ramirez(notes) from Sept. 14-24, 2002.
The focus in St. Petersburg, though, may be on Boston’s other big offseason addition. After playing 614 home games at Tropicana Field since entering the league in 2002, Crawford returns Tuesday for the first time as a visitor.
“I know there’s a lot of mixed emotions down there about me coming to Boston, so I’m not sure what kind of reception I’ll get,” Crawford told the Red Sox’s official website. “Nobody wants a bad reception. Hopefully it’s something good.”
Crawford, who hit .155 in his first 24 games after signing a $142 million deal, is batting .338 with 17 RBIs in his last 17 games. Rays manager Joe Maddon certainly doesn’t hold the departure of the franchise’s all-time hits leader against him.
“This guy worked really hard to put himself in position to earn that kind of money,” Maddon said before Tampa Bay’s 2-1, 10-inning loss in a makeup game at Detroit on Monday. “How could you ever begrudge that?”
Tampa Bay (35-31) gave Shields a 3-0 lead Wednesday at Los Angeles, but the right-hander surrendered three runs in the eighth before the Rays rallied to win 4-3 in 10 innings.
Despite his typical lack of run support at home, Shields should be happy to be there Tuesday. He’s 4-1 with a 2.17 ERA in his last five home starts versus Boston.
Tim Wakefield(notes) (3-1, 4.84) counters against a team he’s beaten 21 times, but the Rays have had the upper hand lately. The knuckleballer is 2-4 with an 8.50 ERA in his last nine games in the series.
Wakefield is 3-0 with a 4.32 ERA in his last four starts while replacing Daisuke Matsuzaka(notes). He allowed five runs over 5 1-3 innings Wednesday in the Bronx, but got credit for Boston’s 11-6 victory.