The Tampa Bay Rays are enjoying the second longest winning streak in franchise history. They now have an opportunity to extend it against a pitcher making his season debut.
The Rays will try to make it 10 straight Sunday at home in the finale of a three-game series with the last-place Boston Red Sox, who have established themselves as sellers as the trade deadline approaches.
Tampa Bay (51-53), on its best run since winning a franchise-record 12 straight in June 2004, kept rolling with Saturday's 3-0 victory for its third shutout during the streak. Rays pitchers have posted a 1.33 ERA and .207 opponent average along the way.
"It's really impressive," Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon said. "It's a total team concept going on right now."
They've also won six straight home contests against the Red Sox (47-57), and Chris Archer is charged with keeping it all going.
Archer (6-5, 3.31 ERA) hasn't lost in his last four starts and won his last while giving up three runs - one earned - and six hits in 6 1-3 innings of last Sunday's 5-3 victory in Minnesota.
The right-hander has struggled at home recently with nine earned runs surrendered over 12 innings in starts against Pittsburgh and Toronto.
Boston has also made Archer labor with a 1-2 record and 4.81 ERA in five career starts, in which he's only made it beyond five innings once. That was by far his strongest outing against the AL East foe, and it came most recently with six scoreless innings of four-hit ball while striking out 11 in a 1-0 win on May 23, but he was denied the decision.
David Ortiz is 4 for 9 in this matchup while Mike Napoli and Dustin Pedroia are each 1 for 10 with a combined 10 strikeouts.
Boston, meanwhile, has been outscored 30-11 in five consecutive losses with opponents batting .325.
"I have to say it's been a disappointing week. A little surprising even," general manager Ben Cherington said.
Allen Webster will try to curb that disappointment in his season debut after the Red Sox dealt Jake Peavy to San Francisco on Saturday. It won't take much to upgrade from what the Red Sox got out of Peavy this season - a 1-9 record and 4.72 ERA in 20 starts, including a 15-start winless streak to end his Boston tenure.
Webster, one of the organization's top prospects, struggled in his time with the big league club a season ago, going 1-2 with an 8.60 ERA in seven starts and a relief appearance, none of which came against Tampa Bay.
The right-hander went 4-4 with a 3.10 ERA in 21 starts at Triple-A Pawtucket.
"He has been able to maintain the overall command of stuff more than a year ago," manager John Farrell told MLB's official website. "And he's gotten another 20-plus starts under his belt at the Triple-A level, which when you take back last year, his year at Triple-A was a very good one for us. He's in the process of transitioning to our level here."
Webster will have to contend with Matt Joyce's eight-game hitting streak and Evan Longoria's .382 average over his last eight games versus Boston. Ben Zobrist is 5 for 7 with a home run in the first two games of the series.
The Red Sox's Shane Victorino was out of the lineup Saturday but is 10 for 23 in six games since returning from a hamstring injury.
The Associated Press News Service
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