By NOEY KUPCHAN
(AP) -- Very much in contention for an AL wild card berth, the Tampa Bay Rays have to like their chances of improving their position with the Seattle Mariners coming to town.
Tampa Bay tries to extend its winning streak over Seattle to nine as these teams open a three-game set Friday night.
One of seven clubs within two games of each other in the wild card standings, the Rays (48-45) salvaged a four-game split against Cleveland with Thursday's 6-0 win. Luke Scott hit his 12th homer, B.J. Upton had three hits and three RBIs, and David Price posted his fifth straight winning decision by throwing seven strong innings.
"They've done a very good job for me this year of scoring runs early and I appreciate it," Price said. "Honestly I feel like we've played our best baseball when I've been on the mound."
The Rays have also been formidable against the Mariners of late, outscoring them 42-20 during an eight-game winning streak in the series. Tampa Bay has also taken 11 of 12 from Seattle at home, including a four-game sweep April 30-May 3.
The Mariners (40-54), though, arrive in town playing well after taking three of four at Kansas City. Seattle hit eight homers and scored 31 runs in the series versus the Royals, winning 6-1 on Thursday.
Felix Hernandez threw another gem to earn his fourth straight victory while Jesus Montero went deep and matched a career best with four RBIs.
"I thought it was a great series overall," manager Eric Wedge said. "I loved the way we played, a total team effort. You talk about a vision the way you want your team to play and how you want to go out there and play major league baseball and this is about it. This is what we're looking for."
The Mariners will try to keep things going against James Shields (8-6, 4.44 ERA), who's gone 1-2 with a 6.54 ERA and .371 opponent batting average over his last five starts, giving up at least 10 hits in each of his last four outings.
"It's a matter of just executing my pitches and going deep into the game and getting a win," Shields, whose 146 hits allowed are the most in baseball, told MLB's official website. "I'm moving on and just trying to stay positive and keep grinding it out. My job right now is to go out there and get some wins, and that's what I'm going to try to do."
Shields yielded four runs - one earned - and struck out a season-high 11 over six innings of a 5-4 win over the Mariners on May 2, improving to 4-4 with a 3.86 ERA over 12 career outings in this series. He had allowed 20 runs over his previous three starts spanning 17 1-3 innings versus Seattle.
The Mariners counter with rookie Hisashi Iwakuma (1-2, 5.13), who's gone 0-1 with a 6.30 ERA over two outings since moving to the rotation. The right-hander gave up four runs, seven hits and three walks in five innings of Sunday's 4-0 loss to Texas.
"I think he's built up to be a starter in regard to pitch count and where he's at, and hopefully he can take advantage of that and be efficient enough to get us late in the ballgame," Wedge said. "He's one of our five starters now, and hopefully he's going to come out there strong and give us a chance to win."
Updated July 19, 2012