Although his team's late-season slump could prevent him from a shot at the most important trophy, David Price still has a good chance to take home a very nice piece of hardware.
Seeking to become the American League's first 19-game winner, Price's first order of business Thursday night against the Boston Red Sox will be helping his club to much-needed back-to-back victories.
Opening this month with six wins in eight games appeared to signal the Rays (79-70) were poised to challenge for a wild-card berth and possibly the East Division title. Instead, they entered Wednesday having lost four straight and seven of eight to fall well off the pace in the wild-card race.
They did rebound with one of their biggest offensive performances of the season, collecting 15 hits and 10 walks in a 13-3 rout of the Red Sox. Jeff Keppinger homered among his three hits and Carlos Pena added a home run and three RBIs as Tampa Bay matched a season high for runs.
''We want to do a little of Minnesota Fats ... got to run the table,'' manager Joe Maddon said. ''We've got to believe we can do it. We have to get really hot. We have no alternative. The standings are very difficult, but we are alive and kicking.''
Reaching the playoffs for a third straight season will take a herculean effort, but having Price (18-5, 2.54 ERA) on the mound following a win should provide the Rays with some momentum.
The left-hander is putting together the best season of his career, leading the league in ERA and is tied with Los Angeles' Jered Weaver for the most wins. Price also ranks among the AL's best in innings (182 2-3), strikeouts (181) and opponent batting average (.224).
Closer Fernando Rodney (43 saves, 0.66 ERA) is also in the running for the Cy Young Award, and Maddon doesn't think being teammates will hurt either of their chances.
"I think if they were both starters it could be, it possibly could be somewhat of a detriment," Maddon told the team's official website. "But the fact that Fernando is relieving and David is starting, I think really separates them, just like it separates their role on the field. I think they'll be viewed differently because of that."
Price won his second consecutive start by limiting the Yankees to two runs and five hits over seven innings in a 6-4 victory Friday. He is 10-1 with a 2.16 ERA in his last 15 starts, striking out 103 in 104 innings during that stretch.
In three starts this season against the Red Sox, Price is 1-1 with a 3.12 ERA.
Wednesday's loss assured Boston (68-82) of its first losing season since 1997. The Red Sox and Yankees were the only teams to finish at least .500 in each of the last 14 years.
Jacoby Ellsbury went 3 for 3 in the loss and is batting .432 (16 for 37) with eight RBIs in his last nine games.
He'll try to continue his hot hitting in support of Clay Buchholz (11-6, 4.33), who hasn't won in over a month.
The right-hander is 0-3 with a 4.89 ERA in five starts since beating Baltimore on Aug. 16. Despite that lack of success, Buchholz has been one of the team's most reliable starters since the All-Star break, posting a 3.16 ERA in 12 outings.
He is coming off a solid performance at Toronto on Saturday, yielding two runs and four hits over seven innings in a 3-2 win.
Buchholz is 1-2 with a 4.62 ERA in four starts this season against the Rays.
Evan Longoria and Ben Zobrist - Tampa Bay's No. 3 and 4 hitters - are a combined 8 for 50 lifetime off Buchholz.
- David Price