Rays-Red Sox Preview
With the season winding down, the Tampa Bay Rays think they have enough left in them to make the playoffs. They just need to keep getting some help.
The Rays will try to match a season high with their seventh straight win Wednesday night when they finish a two-game set against the Boston Red Sox.
Tampa Bay has moved within three games of the second AL wild card and must still overtake the Los Angeles Angels as the two try to challenge current wild-card holders Baltimore and Oakland.
The Rays (84-70) seemed out of contention after losing the first two games of their four-game set with Boston last week, but they have bounced back, winning 5-2 Tuesday for their sixth straight victory.
Jeff Keppinger hit a three-run homer in the second and David Price earned his AL high-tying 19th win, striking out 13 in a seven-hitter.
''We feel good. Nobody has hit the panic button in this locker room,'' Price said. ''We're playing well right now and need to keep it going.''
It was the fifth time in six games Tampa Bay scored at least five runs and had at least 10 hits. The Rays are batting .346 with 11 homers during their winning streak, with Keppinger 12 for 22 (.545) during that span.
Tampa Bay, which has little room for error, will look to match its longest winning streak of the season Wednesday, last winning seven straight Aug. 7-13.
With its rotation shuffled, Alex Cobb (9-9, 4.27 ERA) will pitch on extra rest, taking the mound for the first time since going six innings in a 5-2 loss to Boston on Sept. 17.
Cobb, who had won his previous five decisions, allowed four runs and two hits, including a sixth-inning two-run homer. He and catcher Jose Molina got into a heated discussion after the top half of the sixth, which also featured a wild pitch and passed ball.
The right-hander, who failed to make it out of the fifth inning in two of his previous three starts, picked up a win at Fenway Park on May 25, allowing two runs, three hits and four walks in five innings of a 7-4 victory.
The Red Sox (69-86), who need to win four of their final seven to avoid their first 90-loss season since going 72-90 in 1966, have dropped five of six. Their starters are 0-3 with a 4.84 ERA during that six-game stretch after Clay Buchholz was reached for five runs and eight hits over six innings Tuesday.
Jon Lester (9-13, 4.96), who has lost his last two starts, takes the mound Wednesday.
He gave up four runs in seven innings of a 4-2 loss to Baltimore last Friday - his first defeat against the Orioles.
"Jon was good actually tonight," manager Bobby Valentine told the Red Sox's official website. "His pitches were crisp."
Lester was far from crisp in his only outing against the Rays this year. He was charged with seven runs and three homers over four innings losing to Cobb in May.
The defeat was his third straight against the Rays, dropping him to 10-7 lifetime against them. He has a 4.29 ERA in 21 career outings against them.
Carlos Pena is 11 for 39 with six homers against Lester, the most the left-hander has allowed against any hitter in his career.