The surging Tampa Bay Rays seem ready to take advantage.
Tampa Bay continues its pursuit of a postseason berth Friday night in the opener of a critical three-game set against Boston at Tropicana Field.
The Red Sox (85-58) have lost seven of their last 10 after falling 7-4 to Toronto on Thursday, and the idle Rays (78-64) picked up one-half game in the standings on their division rivals.
Boston remained 2 1/2 games behind New York.
However, it’s the team right behind the Red Sox will need to worry about this weekend.
Tampa Bay, which has won four of five after Wednesday’s 5-4, 10-inning victory over Texas, may be catching Boston at the right time. The Rays will play seven of their next 10 games against the Red Sox, traveling to Fenway Park for a four-game series Sept. 15-18.
“They’re having a moment right now. Their pitching is in tough shape, and they’ll be the first one to tell you that,” manager Joe Maddon told the team’s official website regarding the Red Sox. “But that’s one thing. We have to take care of our business.”
Lackey has allowed at least four runs in each of his last five starts, going 2-3 with a 6.03 ERA in that span. He gave up six runs in five innings of Sunday’s 11-4 loss to the Rangers.
The right-hander has a 6.50 run support average, though he didn’t receive any when he allowed four runs - three earned - in 6 2-3 innings of a 4-0 loss to Tampa Bay on Aug. 17. The Red Sox came through for Lackey on July 16 at Tropicana Field, when he beat the Rays 9-5 after allowing four runs and 10 hits in 5 2-3 innings. He’s 3-4 with a 6.69 ERA in his last seven starts against the division rivals.
He’ll look for some help from the Boston lineup, which played Thursday without Adrian Gonzalez(notes) and Carl Crawford(notes), both of whom received the day off. They’re expected to be back Friday, but Kevin Youkilis(notes) left the team to have his injured hip examined back in Boston.
Youkilis had just come off the disabled list last Friday after being out with back problems.
The Red Sox are facing the Rays for the first time since they mustered nine hits and were outscored 11-5 while losing two of three games to Tampa Bay at Fenway on Aug. 16 (doubleheader) and 17.
Davis has pitched well in three of his last four outings heading into his most important start of the season to date. He allowed six runs in 4 1-3 innings of a loss to Toronto on Aug. 29, but bounced back by giving up three runs in 6 2-3 innings to beat Baltimore 6-3 on Saturday.
The right-hander’s latest win is part of his recent surge at home, where he’s gone 2-1 with a 2.90 ERA in his last seven starts, resulting in six wins for the Rays. However, he is 0-2 with an 11.12 ERA in three career starts against the Red Sox.
“We can still make it really interesting if we put some pressure on them by winning those games,” Davis said.