The Rays aim for their sixth straight victory Tuesday night when they host the reeling Red Sox.
Boston’s sweep from April 13-15 saw the Red Sox improve to 8-4 while the Rays fell to 4-8. Tampa Bay (19-18) is 15-10 since with Sunday’s 4-2 win over the Padres putting them over .500 for the first time since April 6.
A big part of the Rays’ early struggles involved a fragile bullpen, which blew six of its first 10 save opportunities and had an AL-worst 5.19 ERA through last Tuesday. But the relievers have posted a 1.15 ERA with 18 strikeouts over 15 2-3 innings during the current winning streak, including three shutout innings against San Diego on Sunday.
Their 2.88 ERA last year led the AL.
“You can never lose that confidence in your bullpen,” utilityman Sean Rodriguez said. “They’ve earned that respect from us.”
The offensive production has also been strong of late, with the Rays averaging 6.4 runs in their last 14 games. They’ve done a good job behind Tuesday’s starter Matt Moore (6-0, 2.14 ERA), providing him with 7.07 runs of support per nine innings - among the majors’ best marks.
Moore hasn’t needed nearly that much, though his command continues to elude him. He’s walking 4.93 batters per nine innings and issued four walks while allowing two runs and six hits over five innings in a 10-4 win over Toronto on Wednesday.
“I was fighting a lot of different things tonight, mostly my control,” said Moore, who was 0-2 with a 6.57 ERA in two starts against Boston last season, allowing four homers.
The Red Sox (22-16) have lost 8 of 10 after a 12-4 loss to the Blue Jays on Sunday, further distancing themselves from a 20-8 start. David Ortiz’s early success has also slowed, and he was given a day off in the finale against Toronto while in the midst of a 1-for-20 slide.
Ortiz, who is 4 for 7 off Moore, hit .414 with four home runs and 17 RBIs in his first 15 games.
“I think we’ve got a number of guys dealing with frustration right now. There’s no question about it,” manager John Farrell said. “The key for us is maintaining our level of preparation and our work routine. Those are the two things that we can control.”
Boston will start John Lackey (1-3, 2.82), who is coming off his own frustrating outing. He gave up one run through the first five innings against Minnesota on Thursday, then gave way to four unearned runs in the sixth after sailing a throw to second base into center field.
Lackey is 12-6 versus the Rays but 3-5 with a 7.27 ERA over the last eight meetings. Ben Zobrist and Yunel Escobar are a combined 13 for 31 off of Lackey while Luke Scott is 6 for 16 with three doubles and two homers.
Outfielder Desmond Jennings was absent from the Rays’ lineup for the third game in a row Sunday due to a mild groin strain, but manager Joe Maddon said he’s likely to return Tuesday.