ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Rays are running out of time.
The Rays (72-75) have flirted with .500 baseball all year long — and with that, lingering contention for the last of two American League wild-card spots — but losing five of seven games has left them 5 1/2 games behind the Minnesota Twins for the second spot with 15 games to play.
A sustained winning streak continues to elude them. Most recently, they dropped two of three games to the New York Yankees in a “home” series relocated to Citi Field in New York because of Hurricane Irma.
“We’ve gone back and forth, back and forth,” manager Kevin Cash told the Tampa Bay Times. “We’ve hung in there, I don’t know so much by our doing, we’ve hung in there by some other clubs’ doing. We’ve had the opportunity, we’ve just got to find a way to win games. And win a bunch of ’em quick.”
Tampa Bay will try to do that when it opens a three-game series Friday against the Boston Red Sox, who are pulling away in the American League East down the stretch.
Boston (83-63) has won seven of nine, most recently a 6-2 win over the Oakland Athletics on Thursday afternoon. That allowed the Red Sox to hold onto a three-game lead on the Yankees — who have won eight of 10 themselves — for the division crown with 16 games remaining.
The Red Sox’s run has also coincided with the healthy return of Dustin Pedroia, who is 9-for-13 in the last four games, returning to a reliable role in the lineup after missing 30 games due to left knee inflammation.
“He’s come back and made such an impact offensively,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said after another Pedroia provided another key hit Thursday.
If the Rays are to make a run as they return home for the first time in a week, they will need to do so against a pitcher who has owned them this season — Red Sox left-hander Chris Sale (16-7, 2.76 ERA).
Against the Rays this season, Sale is 4-1 with a 2.06 ERA. He didn’t allowed any runs in his past two outings against Tampa Bay, throwing six shutout innings Saturday after tossing eight shutout innings of two-hit ball on Aug. 8.
Sale has 57 strikeouts against seven walks in five starts against the Rays this season, holding Tampa Bay batters to a .161 average.
The Rays will turn Friday to Matt Andriese (5-3, 4.46 ERA). The right-hander lasted just 1 2/3 innings in that same game Saturday, a 9-0 loss at Fenway Park. He gave up eight runs (six earned) on seven hits.
Andriese has seen his ERA balloon from 3.54 to. 4.46 in the past month, but his struggles have mostly come away from Tropicana Field, where he remains 4-0 with a 3.48 ERA on the season. For the season against Boston, he is 1-1 with a 10.80 ERA.
Boston is 9-7 against Tampa Bay this year with three games remaining in the season series.