Rays-Red Sox Preview

The Associated Press

While winning 10 of 13 has evened the Boston Red Sox's record following a dreadful start, it hasn't been enough to dig them out the AL East cellar.

Continued success against the teams ahead of them should help.

The Red Sox will try for their fifth win in seven meetings with the Tampa Bay Rays this season when they open a three-game series at Fenway Park on Friday night.

Boston is trying for a second time this week to move above .500 for the first time this season. The Red Sox (22-22) failed in their first attempt Tuesday, losing 4-1 at Baltimore, but they bounced back with a 6-5 win Wednesday to take two of three from the division leaders.

Daniel Nava, Scott Podsednik and Kelly Shoppach homered in a big day for the bottom part of Boston's lineup, as the trio had six hits while driving in four runs.

The win capped a 20-game stretch without a day off for Boston, which also finished an eight-game road trip.

"Amazing effort by a group of fabulous professionals who played through a lot of adversity - time zones, weather, travel," manager Bobby Valentine said. "They did one heck of a job winning the last two series. Going home at .500 is a feather in their cap."

If the Red Sox win Friday, it would mark the latest date the club first posted a winning record since August 25, 1996.

Following a series win against the AL East leaders, Boston looks to continue its success against the division's second-place team. The Red Sox have won four of six against the Rays, taking three of four at home last month.

Boston has outscored Tampa Bay 36-14 in the wins, and David Ortiz is batting .455 with a home run, four doubles and eight RBIs in the season series.

Tampa Bay (27-18) has showed some power at the plate as well. After losing four of five, the Rays have won their last two while scoring 13 runs. They averaged 2.5 runs over the previous six games.

B.J. Upton hit an RBI double in the bottom of the 11th inning to give the Rays a 5-4 win over Toronto on Wednesday. Upton finished with three hits and has raised his batting average 53 points to .300 after going 13 for 29 with two homers and four doubles over the past seven games.

"I think I'm understanding the strike zone and trying to stay aggressive, and right now I guess I'm not missing any pitches," said Upton, who homered Monday and Tuesday.

Upton hasn't had much success against scheduled Boston starter Jon Lester (3-3, 3.95 ERA), going 10 for 49 (.204) with 11 strikeouts.

Lester is trying to win his third straight start. After pitching his first complete game of the season against Seattle on May 14, Lester wasn't as sharp in Philadelphia on Saturday but received plenty of support in a 7-5 victory. He allowed four runs and eight hits in six innings.

Lester has lost his last two starts versus the Rays to drop to 10-6 against them in his career. He is 6-5 with a 4.11 ERA versus Tampa Bay in 13 starts at Fenway Park.

Boston native Alex Cobb (1-0, 2.57) will counter for the Rays in his first major league appearance in his hometown.

Cobb took the rotation spot of the injured Jeff Niemann on Saturday, and the right-hander allowed two runs and struck out six in seven innings of a 5-2 win over Atlanta in his season debut.

"Cobb was phenomenal," left fielder Matt Joyce said. "He's going to be a big part of our success."

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