Oakland Athletics at Tampa Bay Rays series primer

Rays shortstop Yunel Escobar enters the series having hit .304 (7 for 23) with one home run and two RBI since May 12.

Kim Klement/Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

So this is a bummer. There are certain cream puffs you’d like to see on the schedule after losing three of four to close a seven-game West Coast swing. Then there’s a beast you’d rather keep at a distance with a Ringling-sized tent pole.

A hearty helping of the Houston Astros (17-28) would be grand. Heck, even another crack at the Cleveland Indians (20-25) would be nice. Why can’t the slumping Boston Red Sox, losers of four straight at 20-23, push up their visit three days?

Nope. Fate has cracked a sly grin on the Tampa Bay Rays early this week.

The struggling Rays, in the American League East basement at 19-26, are tasked with playing three games against the streaking Oakland Athletics. Yes, the same Athletics who have won nine of 10 since May 7. Yes, the same Athletics who have scored at least 11 runs in three of their last five. Yes, the same Athletics who are tied with the San Francisco Giants for the most victories in the majors with 28.

Sometimes, ‘dems the breaks.

Nothing about this looks easy from the Rays’ vantage point. So far this season, the Athletics have become baseball’s equivalent of the Greatest Show on Turf.

They have scored 235 runs, second in the majors to the Colorado Rockies’ 249. They own a .344 on-base percentage, second in the majors to the Rockies’ .346. They are second in the AL in hits with 399, behind the Chicago White Sox’s 417.

Oh yeah, don’t expect many meatballs from their pitching staff either. They own the majors’ second-best ERA with a 2.92 total, behind the Atlanta Braves’ 2.82.

Sounds like a picnic, right?

Is May over yet?

Like April, this month has been more bag of thorns than bundle of roses for manager Joe Maddon’s guys. They’re 8-10 in May, and only the Red Sox’s 7-9 mark is worse among AL East teams. The Athletics, meanwhile, are 10-6 and one of six AL squads with double-digit victories for the month.

This is far from the ideal assignment to shock life into a season that needs a spark. Those are the breaks now.

Here’s a look at the upcoming Rays-Athletics series:

SCHEDULE AND PROBABLE PITCHERS

WHO’S HOT

Brandon Moss (Athletics): He hit .455 (10 for 22) with three home runs and 11 RBI in six games from May 12-18. He earned at least one hit in all but one game in the span (May 14 against the White Sox). He has hit .301 with nine home runs and 39 RBI this season.

Yunel Escobar (Rays): He hit .304 (7 for 23) with one home run and two RBI in seven games from May 12-18. He had a hit on all but two games in the span (May 14 against the Seattle Mariners and May 18 against the Los Angeles Angels). He has hit .255 with three home runs and nine RBI this season.

WHO’S NOT

Derek Norris (Athletics): He hit .222 (4 for 18) with three strikeouts in five games from May 12-17. He went hitless twice in the span. He has hit .354 with four home runs and 20 RBI this season.

Desmond Jennings (Rays): He hit .100 (2 for 20) with five strikeouts in five games from May 12-16. He went hitless in three games in the span. He has hit .242 with four home runs and 10 RBI this season.

STORYLINES

4: Starts right-hander Chris Archer had gone without a victory before earning one in the Rays’ 3-0 win over the Angels on Friday at Angel Stadium. He allowed two hits and struck out five in 104 pitches.

35: Pitches left-hander Cesar Ramos threw in 1 1/3 innings during the Rays’ 6-0 loss to the Angels on Saturday at Angel Stadium. He allowed nine earned runs in his last two starts. Right-hander Alex Cobb, out since April 13 with a left oblique strain, is expected to take his place in the rotation Thursday.

319: Number of pitchers Angels slugger Albert Pujols has homered off in the regular season during his career. Rays left-hander David Price became the latest when he allowed two against Pujols in the Angels’ 6-2 victory Sunday at Angel Stadium.

Tampa Bay Rays on FOX Sports Sun

QUOTE BOARD

LOOKING AHEAD

May 23-25 — Red Sox at Rays

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