Things are about to get wild under the dome of Tropicana Field, where the Tampa Bay Rays and Texas Rangers are set to kick off a four- game series on Monday night between the two current wild card leaders in the American League.
The Rangers and Rays bring identical 81-67 records into this opener and sit just a half-game ahead of the Cleveland Indians in the race for the extra two playoff spots. The Tribe picked up a win on Sunday, while both Texas and Tampa Bay lost.
Things are starting to get desperate for Texas, which just went winless on a six-game homestand to match its longest losing streak of the season. The Rangers were swept in three-game sets by Pittsburgh and Oakland, falling 6 1/2 games back of the Athletics for first place in the AL West.
The Rangers did little on offense in Sunday's 5-1 loss to the A's. Jim Adduci had three hits, but A.J. Pierzynski was the only Texas batter to drive in a run.
Martin Perez lasted 6 1/3 innings, permitting three runs on seven hits in Texas' 12th loss in 15 games.
"I'm not sure what's going on," a confused Ron Washington said regarding his club. "I've never witnessed this before."
The Rays had a three-game win streak snapped with Sunday's 6-4 setback to Minnesota. James Loney knocked in a run with a single in the eighth inning to put Tampa Bay up two, but the Twins countered with a four-run bottom of the frame.
Wil Myers cracked a two-run shot and scored twice for Tampa Bay, while David Price surrendered two runs on six hits and three walks over 6 1/3 innings in the no-decision.
"I put too much pressure on myself to be perfect," Price said.
Lost in the heat of the battle is Matt Garza's return to Tropicana Field. The righty will face his former Rays team for the first time since getting dealt by Tampa Bay to the Chicago Cubs on Jan. 8, 2011.
Garza went 34-31 with a 3.86 earned run average in 95 games with the Rays from 2008-10 and was a solid postseason contributor for the club. He is 20-10 with a 3.21 ERA lifetime at Tropicana Field.
Garza was 6-1 with a 3.17 ERA in 11 starts with the Cubs this year before getting traded to the Rangers. The 29-year-old is 3-4 with a 4.46 ERA in 10 games with his new club and has lost three straight decisions.
He failed to go at least seven innings for the first time in four starts in a loss to Pittsburgh on Wednesday. Garza yielded three runs on five hits and four walks while getting lifted after four frames.
Alex Cobb goes for the Rays and is 8-3 with a 3.08 ERA in 19 starts this season.
The 25-year-old righty has picked up a pair of no-decisions this month, including Wednesday versus Boston. Cobb allowed three runs on seven hits and three walks over 5 2/3 innings.
Cobb has faced the Rangers twice before, allowing six earned runs over 11 innings without a decision.