Rays of hope

The Tampa Bay Rays defeated the Boston Red Sox three times during their recently completed four-game weekend series at Fenway Park. Tampa Bay’s success trimmed Boston’s lead in the wild card race to just two games. However, the Rays have a significant schedule disadvantage.

The Rays must face the New York Yankees seven times during their last 10 regular season games, including a Wednesday day-night doubleheader at Yankee Stadium. Fortunately for the Rays, seven of those last 10 games will be played at home where the squad is 42-33.

Tampa Bay (85-67) won for the 11th time in its past 15 games since Boston (87-65) held a nine-game lead on Sept. 2. The Rays, winners in eight of their past nine games against the Red Sox, own a 12-6 advantage during the season series.

If the Rays do manage to earn a spot in the playoffs, they will make history. No team has ever overcome as high as a nine-game deficit through Sept. 2 to earn a spot in the postseason.

Tampa opens its four-game series against the Yankees on Tuesday, with Wade Davis opposing New York rookie sensation Ivan Nova. James Shields and Jeremy Hellickson will battle CC Sabathia and Phil Hughes, respectively, during Wednesday’s day-night doubleheader. Jeff Niemann will start for Tampa on Thursday night against Bartolo Colon.

Davis is 10-9 with a 4.41 ERA overall, but just 5-5 with a bloated 5.40 ERA in 13 road starts. The ‘over’ is 9-4 during that span.

The 6-foot-5, 220-pound right-hander is coming off last Wednesday’s 6-2 loss at Baltimore as a $1.50 road favorite. The 26-year-old was tagged for four runs on seven hits in 6 1/3 innings. He fanned two and walked three during a 102-pitch effort.

Davis has not started against the Yankees this season.

Nova is a sparkling 15-4 with a respectable 3.81 ERA in his rookie campaign. The 6-foot-4, 225-pound righty is 7-2 with a 4.42 ERA at home, compared to 8-2 with a 3.26 ERA on the road. The ‘under’ is 13-11 in his 24 overall starts.

After winning eight straight starts, Nova has two no-decisions in his last two efforts. That includes last Wednesday when he limited Seattle to just one run on five hits through 7 1/3 innings. He fanned five, walked four and tossed just 87 pitches. The Yanks went on to suffer a 2-1 loss as hefty $1.75 road favorites.

Nova registered a 6-2 victory as a $1.35 road underdog on May 17 in his lone start against Tampa Bay this season. He limited the Rays to just one run on four hits through 5 1/3 innings spanning 100 pitches.

The ‘over’ is 10-4 in Tampa Bay’s last 14 trips to Yankee Stadium.

The Rays might not be at full strength for Tuesday’s opener at New York. Second baseman Sean Rodriquez (back) and left fielder Sam Fuld (wrist) are both listed as “questionable.” Ben Zobrist (16 HR, 84 RBI) will miss the game because his wife is expecting a child. He is scheduled to rejoin the club for Wednesday’s doubleheader.

Looking at the remaining regular season schedule in the race for the wild card spot, the Red Sox will play the Orioles four times in three days starting with a day-night doubleheader on Monday at Fenway Park.

Kyle Weiland and John Lackey will start for Boston on Monday, while Baltimore will start Jeremy Guthrie and Brian Matusz. Erik Bedard starts for the Red Sox on Tuesday against Rick VandenHurk. The finale features Boston ace Josh Beckett against Tommy Hunter.

After the Rays leave the Bronx, they end the regular season with a three-game home series against the Blue Jays followed by three more at home versus the Yankees.

Meanwhile, the Red Sox finish the season on the road, with three against the Yankees in New York and three vs. the Orioles in Baltimore.

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