Tampa Bay Rays at New York Yankees series primer

Tampa Bay Rays catcher Jose Molina congratulates Matt Joyce, who had a huge game Sunday in a win over the Baltimore Orioles.

Joy R. Absalon

Is this the start of something bigger?

Time after time this season, the Tampa Bay Rays have searched for a seminal moment to mark a pivot away from their underwhelming results. And time after time, potential sparks have fizzled, only to reveal more hardship during this uncommon summer.

Will winning three of four games over the Baltimore Orioles at Camden Yards in a weekend series become a true turn?

It’s difficult to say a definitive "yes," but the ingredients for sustained winning were there. They outscored the Orioles 23-17. The pitching was serviceable. The power was present. They didn’t look like the American League’s worst team.

First place in the AL East remains a far-off goal in the horizon. But the Toronto Blue Jays, once a surprise juggernaut, have tumbled back to Earth by losing 15 of 22 games from June 7-29.

Now the Rays are 10 games back in the division. If they replicate the Baltimore success in the coming weeks, anything seems possible.

"It’s really important to keep it going," Rays manager Joe Maddon told reporters Sunday. "The focus has to be on winning series. We did this one."

Yes, Tampa Bay must keep the momentum rolling in the Bronx the next three days to preserve this most recent glimmer of opportunity.

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Here’s a look at the upcoming Rays-Yankees series …

SCHEDULE AND PROBABLE PITCHERS

WHO’S HOT

Matt Joyce (Rays): He hit .350 (7 for 20) with two home runs and six RBI in six games from June 23-29. He had two multi-hit games in the span, including going 5 for 6 with two home runs and four RBI in a victory over the Orioles on June 29. He has hit .274 with five home runs and 33 RBI this season.

Derek Jeter (Yankees): He hit .389 (7 for 18) with one home run and three RBI in five games from June 24-29. He had two games with two hits each in the span. He has hit .275 with two home runs and 19 RBI this season.

WHO’S NOT

Desmond Jennings (Rays): He hit .214 (6 for 28) with eight strikeouts in seven games from June 23-29. He went hitless twice in the span. He has hit .236 with seven home runs and 21 RBI this season.

Brian Roberts (Yankees): He hit .130 (3 for 23) with four strikeouts in six games from June 23-29. He was held hitless four times in the span. He has hit .233 with three home runs and 16 RBI this season.

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STORYLINES

2: Home runs hit by the Rays in their previous nine games before smashing three in a 5-4 victory over the Orioles on Saturday at Camden Yards. Desmond Jennings, Logan Forsythe and Kevin Kiermaier smacked the home runs.

10: Runs scored by the Rays with right-hander Alex Cobb in the game Sunday during their 12-7 victory over the Orioles. They had scored 12 total runs when he remained in the game during his first 10 starts (59 1/3 innings).

2: Pitchers in the last 30 years to win their first four starts against the Yankees. Right-hander Chris Archer joins right-hander Ervin Santana (2005-06) to achieve the feat. Hall of Famer Walter Johnson, a right-hander throwing for the Washington Senators, was the last pitcher to go 5-0 in his first five games against the Yankees in 1907-08. Archer has a chance to match Johnson on Monday at Yankee Stadium.

QUOTE BOARD

"I’m not a big fan. I think it’s too long of a day for everybody involved. I know there’s a money component, whatever, but if you’re going to play a doubleheader, play them one after the other." — €“Maddon, before the Rays participated in a day-night doubleheader against the Orioles on Friday. Tampa Bay won the first game 5-2 but lost the second game 4-1.

"That’s probably the best strike-ball ratio I’ve ever thrown in my life. The biggest thing was the first-pitch strikes and after that, I continued to throw strikes. I mixed in fastball, changeup, curveball and I came out on top." — €“Left-hander Erik Bedard, after 68 of his 87 pitches were strikes in the Rays’ victory Saturday. He improved to 4-5 with a 4.21 ERA in 15 appearances this season.

"You really don’t have very many days like that. It’s nice to have one of those days and enjoy it." — €“Outfielder Matt Joyce, after he went 5 for 6 with four RBI in the Rays’ 12-7 victory over the Orioles on Sunday. Tampa Bay produced 11 extra base hits in the win.

LOOKING AHEAD

July 3-6– Rays at Tigers

You can follow Andrew Astleford on Twitter @aastleford or email him at aastleford@gmail.com.