Rays-Red Sox Preview

The Associated Press

Tampa Bay's starting pitchers have mostly mowed through opposing lineups during a stretch that has them on the verge of taking the division lead.

Roberto Hernandez has been the lone exception, but he'll get the ball looking to lead the Rays to a seventh straight win when they visit the Boston Red Sox on Tuesday night.

The Rays (59-41), who were seven games back of the Red Sox (60-41) on June 29, could take over Boston's spot atop the AL East with another victory after Matt Moore's two-hitter in Monday's 3-0 series-opening win.

"I really believed we were going to get back into it,'' manger Joe Maddon said. "I didn't know when.''

Tampa Bay has won 18 of 20 behind a starting staff that has posted a 2.11 ERA and delivered 17 quality starts. On Monday night, the Rays picked up their fifth shutout in 20 games - tying them for the AL lead with 12.

"They came in playing good baseball," Boston right fielder Shane Victorino said. "We talked about it before the game, it's going to be a tough series for us."

Boston, which had won 14 of its previous 17 at Fenway Park, is now in danger of losing a home series for the first time since the Blue Jays took two of three there May 10-12.

The Red Sox are 5-2 at home against Tampa Bay this season despite scoring only 20 runs and hitting .201.

The Rays hope to keep Boston off balance again Tuesday, but they'll be handing the ball to the one pitcher in their rotation who's been less than excellent during their hot stretch.

Moore, Chris Archer, David Price and Jeremy Hellickson all have posted ERAs below 2.65 during this 20-game run, while Roberto Hernandez (5-10, 4.90 ERA) has been decent if unspectacular. He's 1-1 with a 4.50 ERA in three July starts, all against Houston or Minnesota, going six innings and allowing three runs in each.

Hernandez had one of his better starts of the season in his lone outing against the Red Sox. He held Boston to three runs in seven innings while matching a season high with seven strikeouts in the Rays' 8-3 home victory June 11.

The right-hander has stifled Dustin Pedroia, holding him to a double in 14 at-bats. David Ortiz, however, is 9 for 22 off Hernandez with three doubles and a home run.

Jon Lester (8-6, 4.58) counters for the Red Sox as he tries for a fourth time to equal his 2012 win total. The left-hander won his first six decisions with a 2.72 ERA, but he's gone 2-6 with a 6.27 ERA in 11 starts since.

Lester has lost his last two, most recently yielding three runs over 6 1-3 innings in a 3-0 loss at Oakland on July 13.

"I'm not pitching the way I feel like I should or want to be," Lester told the team's official website. "At the same time, I think there are a lot of positives within some of those games that I try to take."

The biggest positive for Lester on Tuesday is that he'll be at home. He's 3-0 with a 2.96 ERA at Fenway.

Lester was solid in his first two starts against the Rays this season, posting a 1.93 ERA, before surrendering a season-worst seven runs, seven walks and three homers while losing to Hernandez on June 11.

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