Red Sox-Rays Preview

The Tampa Bay Rays will need another stirring rally if they want

to return to postseason, and might have just the opportunity to get

one started during a promising part of their schedule.

The Rays will play nine straight against sub-.500 clubs

beginning with Monday night’s visit from the Boston Red Sox.

Tampa Bay pulled to within 1 1/2 games of the AL East lead Sept.

4 after a fourth straight win, but is now five games behind New

York after dropping seven of 10. The Rays (78-68) also trail

Baltimore by four games for the AL’s second wild-card spot.

They went 1-5 on a road trip against the Orioles and Yankees,

and gave up five runs in the third inning of a 6-4 defeat Sunday to

New York. Tampa Bay, which had five hits in that loss, is batting

.218 over its last 10 games and .172 with runners in scoring

position.

“It seems like we’re pressing now,” third baseman Evan Longoria

said.

Tampa Bay will play six of its next nine games against Boston

(66-81) and the other three versus Toronto. The Rays travel to

Fenway Park for two games Sept. 25-26.

Tampa Bay rallied from nine games back and beat out the Red Sox

for the lone wild card spot last year, but manager Joe Maddon isn’t

necessarily expecting another miracle.

“The math isn’t in our favor,” he said. “The baseball gods have

created two wild cards, so let’s see what happens.”

The Rays will likely need a more consistent performance against

the Red Sox to get things going. They’re just 5-7 this season

against their AL East rivals after winning 23 of 36 meetings over

the previous two campaigns.

Alex Cobb (9-8, 4.26 ERA) will try to deliver a win in this

matchup while going deeper in this game. The right-hander has given

up two runs in each of his last two starts but lasted only 4 2-3

innings in a 3-2 loss in Baltimore on Wednesday.

Cobb is 5-0 with a 3.31 ERA in eight starts since the beginning

of August, but he hasn’t faced Boston since May 25. He gave up two

runs, three hits and four walks over five innings of that 7-4 win

at Fenway.

The Red Sox have dropped 14 of 18 and 10 of 13 on the road, but

won their first two games in Toronto this weekend before falling

5-0 in Sunday’s finale. They were 0 for 8 with runners in scoring

position in that defeat, which put them one shy of the franchise’s

first losing season since 1997.

“We fired a lot of blanks with men on base today,” manager Bobby

Valentine said.

Aaron Cook (3-10, 5.18) is hoping a better performance from his

teammates will help him end a five-game losing streak.

He was dealt the latest of those defeats Wednesday against the

Yankees. The right-hander gave up three runs over five innings but

was given only one run of support in a 5-4 loss.

Cook has received a combined two runs over his last three

outings.

Cook will face Tampa Bay for the first time since June 17, 2009.

He’s 1-1 with a 6.63 ERA in three all-time matchups.