James Shields might not be having the stellar season his Tampa Bay teammate David Price is enjoying, but the right-hander has pitched like an All-Star of late.
After Price became the majors’ third 15-game winner, Shields goes for a third consecutive winning start Sunday when the visiting Rays try to match a season high with a sixth straight victory and complete a sweep of the Minnesota Twins.
Price allowed two runs in seven innings in Tampa Bay’s 4-2 victory at Minnesota on Saturday. B.J Upton homered twice and Matt Joyce added a solo shot for the Rays (61-52), who have won 12 of 17.
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In postseason contention once again, Tampa Bay is 78-43 in August since 2008.
“When you win five in a row, then you show up and you feel like you’re going to win, that’s obviously a good thing and that does turn into winning more often,” manager Joe Maddon said.
Winners of four in a row against the Twins, the Rays have a chance to sweep their second three-game set in as many years at Target Field.
It would seem Tampa Bay has a very good chance to accomplish that feat by handing the ball to Shields (10-7, 4.08 ERA), who has allowed one run, five hits and struck out 17 in 17 innings to win his last two starts after going 0-2 with a 6.31 ERA in the previous four. Shields gave up a homer and one other hit in eight innings of a 4-1 victory over Toronto on Tuesday secure his sixth straight 10-win season.
“I think I’ve turned the corner,” he said. “Hopefully I get on a little roll here.”
Shields improved to 4-2 with a 4.24 ERA in 10 starts versus Minnesota on April 21 when he yielded one run in eight innings of a 4-1 victory.
Upton, who has five RBIs in the first two games of the set, is batting .351 with three homers and 10 RBIs in 10 games at Target Field.
Joyce has homered in each of the last two contests and also has five RBIs in the series. He’s 6 for 15 with a double, three home runs and six RBIs in four games versus Minnesota this season.
Tampa Bay has scored a combined 11 runs in the first two innings of the first two games in this series.
“I think we know going in these guys are swinging early in the first inning,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “That’s where we have to be better (Sunday). We’ve got to make better pitches early.”
Tampa Bay, batting .310 while totaling 30 runs and 53 hits during its five-game winning streak, gets its first look at Minnesota left-hander Scott Diamond (10-5, 2.91) in the finale.
The team leader in wins, who also has one of the lowest ERAs in the majors, Diamond allowed three runs in seven innings of a 14-3 victory at Cleveland on Monday.
Justin Morneau had two of the seven hits Saturday for the Twins (49-64), who have lost three straight after winning nine of 12.
Morneau and teammate Joe Mauer are batting a combined .372 (19 for 51) against Shields.
Minnesota will look to avoid a fifth consecutive loss at Target Field, where it is 23-34.