Rays-Twins Preview

The Associated PressJuly 17, 2014

Neither the Tampa Bay Rays nor the Minnesota Twins were happy with the first half of the season. Despite some encouraging recent play for both clubs, they'll need strong starts out of the All-Star break to avoid irrelevancy.

The Rays seek a ninth road win in 10 games Friday night when they face the Twins.

Tampa Bay's 44 wins at the break are the club's fewest since winning 34 in 2007. The Rays (44-53) are eight games out of a wild-card spot and 9 1/2 back in the AL East, though their 13-5 record since June 25 is the second-best in the majors.

"I've permitted myself to look at our record; we're less than 10 under," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "We're still trending in the right direction. It's still a tough hill to climb, but I think our guys are up for the challenge."

Better production from Evan Longoria could help Tampa Bay gain ground. Longoria's .257 average with 11 homers and 44 RBIs before the All-Star break were well off his first-half totals from last year, when he hit .278 with 18 homers and 52 RBIs.

The Twins (44-50) have won five of six on the road while outscoring opponents 38-17, but they are 6 1/2 games off the pace in the wild-card standings and 10 1/2 games behind first-place Detroit.

Brian Dozier - who homered twice in Sunday's 13-5 win at Colorado before hitting as many home runs in Monday's derby - ranks second in baseball with 69 runs scored, the third-most at the break by a Twin.

"We knew coming into this series, or this whole road trip, not really make-or-break, but a huge test what we're going to do after the break, whether buy or sell," said Dozier, who leads the club with 18 homers. "I want to try to do everything to contend. In all of our opinions, we think we're good enough."

No timetable has been set for the return of Joe Mauer, who has been on the disabled list since July 2 with a strained oblique. However, infielder Danny Santana could be back from a bruised left knee. The rookie hit .328 in 37 games with 16 RBIs.

The Twins are the only AL club - besides the Rays - Alex Cobb (4-6, 4.14 ERA) has yet to face. Cobb gave up two runs over 6 2-3 innings and did not get a decision in a 5-4 loss to Kansas City on July 9.

Minnesota counters with Kyle Gibson (8-7, 3.92). He gave up seven hits over six shutout innings in an 8-1 win at Seattle on July 9 after throwing just two innings in two of his previous three outings. The right-hander looks to redeem himself from a 7-3 loss in Tampa Bay on April 22, when he was tagged for season worsts of seven runs and 10 hits over three innings.

Gibson also struggled in his first career start against Tampa Bay on July 9, 2013, giving up four runs over six innings in a 4-1 defeat.

Matt Joyce was 5 for 11 when the Rays won two of three from the Twins in April and has hit .395 with 14 RBIs over his last 12 contest versus Minnesota.