Tampa Bay Rays
Struggling Rays can get back in race in Boston
BOSTON - While the standings say the Tampa Bay Rays are very much in the push for a playoff spot, their play since May 24 suggests otherwise. If not for their white-hot start, the Rays would find themselves clawing just get back into the race. Instead, the third-place Rays have a golden opportunity to move up the standings with this two-game series against the second-place Boston Red Sox that begins tonight at Fenway Park. The Rays catch a break in that Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia (fracture in left foot) and catcher Victor Martinez (fractured tip of left thumb) won't be in the lineup.With Jason Varitek behind the plate, the Rays can turn this quick series into the Penn Relays, providing they get on base. That has been a chore of late. The Rays managed only seven hits over the weekend in the three-game series with the Diamondbacks and none of those hits came Friday night against former Ray Edwin Jackson, who tossed the first no-hitter at Tropicana Field. The Rays and Red Sox were separated by 8 1/2 games in the standings May 24 when they began a three-game series at the Trop, which the Red Sox swept. Since then, the Red Sox are 22-11 and the Rays are 12-19. James Shields, 0-3 with a 9.37 ERA in his last three starts, faces John Lackey, who is 8-3 overall with a 4.69 ERA. Shields historically has not pitched well at Fenway Park, though he did win his last start here when he allowed four runs in 6 2/3 innings in a 6-5 win. That game, played on a cold, rainy April night, followed the conclusion of a game suspended from Friday night. Shields won the second game of the Rays four-game sweep that helped push the Rays to a historically fast start and gave them the best record in baseball (32-12) on May 23. While the Red Sox will be without Pedroia and Martinez, we won't know until the afternoon if left fielder Carl Crawford's strained left shoulder will permit him to be in the lineup and if manager Joe Maddon is taking any action against center fielder B.J. Upton, whose lack of hustle Sunday on a ball in the gap led to a dugout confrontation with third baseman Evan Longoria. We do know this: tonight starts the stretch of nine games against the Red Sox (five games) and Minnesota Twins. With six of those games on the road, that's a tough stretch for any team, especially one that is struggling.