The Tampa Bay Rays suddenly find themselves in the thick of the playoff race after sweeping the AL wild-card leaders.
Niemann takes the mound hoping to avoid losing a career worst-tying third consecutive start Monday night when the Rays begin a crucial 11-game road trip against the Baltimore Orioles.
Tampa Bay (81-64) moved a season-high 17 games over .500 and within 3 1/2 of wild card-leading Boston after completing a three-game sweep of the Red Sox with Sunday’s 9-1 victory. B.J. Upton(notes) had a grand slam among a season-best four hits and James Shields(notes) came within two outs of his 12th complete game of the year.
The Rays, winners in seven of eight, sat 10 games behind the New York Yankees in the wild-card standings on Aug. 7.
“We needed to win these,” manager Joe Maddon said. “There’s no other way to look at it. Under the circumstances, you’ve got to do what we did or it’s pretty much almost impossible to recover. Our guys believe we can do this. It’s truly not impossible.”
Niemann, who went 6-0 with a 1.71 ERA from July 2-Aug. 16, has since gone 1-3 with a 7.33 ERA over his last four starts. He was at his worst during Tuesday’s 8-0 loss to Texas, yielding a season-high seven runs and nine hits in 4 2-3 innings.
“It’s really frustrating,” Niemann said. “Just have to deal with it and keep pushing on.
Niemann, however, knows what’s at stake and is eager to redeem himself.
“I don’t think there will be a letdown,” Niemann said. “I think everyone knows what our goal is here. Take care of business. …We have to win.”
Getting back on the road could help Niemann (9-7, 4.07 ERA) regroup. He is 6-2 with a 3.36 ERA in 10 starts away from home as opposed to 3-5 with a 4.74 mark at home.
The right-hander, who hasn’t faced Baltimore this season, is 1-2 with a 7.06 ERA over four career starts at Camden Yards. Nick Markakis(notes) is 8 for 23 with a homer against him while Matt Wieters(notes) is 5 for 13.
Since going 22 for 64 (.344) with seven homers and 18 RBIs from Aug. 15-Sept. 6, Wieters finds himself in the midst of a 0-for-15 slump after going hitless in five at-bats during Sunday’s 6-5 loss at Toronto.
Adam Jones(notes) was scratched for the second consecutive day after fouling a pitch off his left ankle during Friday’s 2-0 win. It is unknown if Jones, batting .109 over his last 16 games, will be available Monday.
The Orioles (58-87) have won each of Zach Britton’s(notes) four last starts, during which the rookie left-hander has gone 3-0 with a 2.74 ERA. Britton (9-9, 4.33) has impressed in three outings in this matchup, going 2-1 with a 3.12 ERA while holding the Rays to a .186 average.
Since suffering a three-game sweep at the hands of the Orioles to open the season, the Rays have taken eight of 12 meetings in the series, including five of six in Baltimore.