The Tampa Bay Rays will need another stirring rally if they want to return to postseason, and might have just the opportunity to get one started during a promising part of their schedule.
The Rays will play nine straight against sub-.500 clubs beginning with Monday night's visit from the Boston Red Sox.
Tampa Bay pulled to within 1 1/2 games of the AL East lead Sept. 4 after a fourth straight win, but is now five games behind New York after dropping seven of 10. The Rays (78-68) also trail Baltimore by four games for the AL's second wild-card spot.
They went 1-5 on a road trip against the Orioles and Yankees, and gave up five runs in the third inning of a 6-4 defeat Sunday to New York. Tampa Bay, which had five hits in that loss, is batting .218 over its last 10 games and .172 with runners in scoring position.
"It seems like we're pressing now," third baseman Evan Longoria said.
Tampa Bay will play six of its next nine games against Boston (66-81) and the other three versus Toronto. The Rays travel to Fenway Park for two games Sept. 25-26.
Tampa Bay rallied from nine games back and beat out the Red Sox for the lone wild card spot last year, but manager Joe Maddon isn't necessarily expecting another miracle.
"The math isn't in our favor," he said. "The baseball gods have created two wild cards, so let's see what happens."
The Rays will likely need a more consistent performance against the Red Sox to get things going. They're just 5-7 this season against their AL East rivals after winning 23 of 36 meetings over the previous two campaigns.
Alex Cobb (9-8, 4.26 ERA) will try to deliver a win in this matchup while going deeper in this game. The right-hander has given up two runs in each of his last two starts but lasted only 4 2-3 innings in a 3-2 loss in Baltimore on Wednesday.
Cobb is 5-0 with a 3.31 ERA in eight starts since the beginning of August, but he hasn't faced Boston since May 25. He gave up two runs, three hits and four walks over five innings of that 7-4 win at Fenway.
The Red Sox have dropped 14 of 18 and 10 of 13 on the road, but won their first two games in Toronto this weekend before falling 5-0 in Sunday's finale. They were 0 for 8 with runners in scoring position in that defeat, which put them one shy of the franchise's first losing season since 1997.
"We fired a lot of blanks with men on base today," manager Bobby Valentine said.
Aaron Cook (3-10, 5.18) is hoping a better performance from his teammates will help him end a five-game losing streak.
He was dealt the latest of those defeats Wednesday against the Yankees. The right-hander gave up three runs over five innings but was given only one run of support in a 5-4 loss.
Cook has received a combined two runs over his last three outings.
Cook will face Tampa Bay for the first time since June 17, 2009. He's 1-1 with a 6.63 ERA in three all-time matchups.
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