Red Sox-Rays Preview
By JEFF MEZYDLO
(AP) -- The Tampa Bay Rays are quickly falling out of postseason contention in the AL.
Facing Boston's Daisuke Matsuzaka might help them get back on track for the moment.
The Rays look to avoid a season-high fifth straight loss while trying to halt their recent struggles against the Red Sox on Wednesday night at Tropicana Field.
Tampa Bay (78-70) won six of eight to open September and looked to be in position to challenge for a wild-card berth and possibly the East Division title. Since then, they were swept in three games at Baltimore and lost two of three at New York before dropping the first two of this four-game set with Boston.
"I don't have anything brilliant to say," manager Joe Maddon. "We're just not playing well and we've got to figure it out relatively quick - not relatively quick, very quickly."
Ben Zobrist had two of his team's three hits and four RBIs, but the Rays could not hold an early 3-0 lead in Tuesday's 7-5 defeat. Tampa Bay has not dropped five in a row since opening 2011 with six straight losses.
"We're playing uptight, we're Jonesing out there a little bit. I don't understand why because I really believe we've maintained the clubhouse in the same fashion that we normally do," Maddon said. "This time of the year is the time I thought we really enjoy the most, and for whatever reason it's just not thriving or happening right now."
Though the Red Sox (68-81) will miss the postseason for a third consecutive year, they have won four of five. They have won five of seven on the road since losing a season-high eight straight away from Fenway Park.
Boston has won three in a row and five of seven at Tropicana Field this season, but Tampa Bay might have a good chance to turn things around against Matsuzaka (1-5, 7.14 ERA), who is 0-4 with a 10.33 ERA in six starts - including the postseason - against the Rays since he beat them in Game 1 of the 2008 AL championship series.
In the final season of a six-year, $52 million contract, Matsuzaka could be making one of his last starts as a member of the Red Sox. The right-hander, 0-2 with a 13.06 ERA in his last three outings, allowed four runs and walked three in 5 1-3 innings of an 8-5 win at Toronto on Friday.
Zobrist is batting .357 (5 for 14) with a double and a home run versus Matsuzaka, and .400 (10 for 25) with eight RBIs in his last six games overall.
Tampa Bay rookie Chris Archer (0-3, 3.22) will make his fifth appearance Wednesday but first start since he allowed two runs and struck out 11 in seven innings of a 4-2, 10-inning loss to Texas on Sept. 8. The right-hander did give up one run, three hits and walked three in 3 2-3 innings out of the bullpen during a 3-2, 14-inning defeat at Baltimore on Thursday.
Making his first career appearance versus Boston, Archer is taking the place of Tampa Bay ace David Price, who has been given an extra days' rest and will start Thursday's finale.
Boston's Jacoby Ellsbury is batting .421 (16 for 38) with one homer and seven RBIs during his last nine games against the Rays.
Updated September 19, 2012