The Tampa Bay Rays are getting acclimated to competing against the NL East and hope the success continues tonight in the opener of a three- game series versus the stumbling New York Mets at Tropicana Field.
Tampa Bay is in the midst of playing 15 straight games against the division and started the stretch by sweeping the Miami Marlins in three games on the road over the weekend. The Rays recorded their fourth win in a row and completed the sweep at Marlins Park with Sunday's 4-2 win. A three-run fourth inning was highlighted by Matt Joyce's lead-off homer and a two-run shot from Elliot Johnson, while James Shields tossed 6 1/3 innings of one-run ball.
"Obviously we got a win and a nice little sweep," Shields said. "I felt pretty good for the most part. Overall it was a good start, better than the last few."
Jake McGee, Joel Peralta and Fernando Rodney went the rest of the way to preserve the win. Rodney notched his 18th save by closing out Tampa Bay's fourth straight win and seventh in a row against the Marlins, dating back to May 22, 2011. The Rays have outscored their opponents by a 29-10 margin during the winning streak and are tied with the New York Yankees atop the American League East standings.
The Rays will also welcome Miami to the Trop before making visits to Washington and Philadelphia.
Alex Cobb will try to continue Tampa's winning trend when he toes the rubber in Tuesday's series opener with the Mets. Cobb has dropped back-to-back starts since opening the 2012 campaign with consecutive victories, and has never faced the Mets before. Cobb last took the mound in a 4-1 loss at Yankee Stadium last Wednesday, when he surrendered all four runs and five hits, including a pair of homers, over a season high-tying seven innings.
Cobb is 2-2 with a 4.13 earned run average this season and 1-1 in two starts at Tropicana Field.
Meanwhile, the Mets had an extra day of rest to get sorted and have lost three straight and six of their last seven games.
The Mets were swept in the Bronx by the crosstown-rival Yankees over the weekend and dropped a 5-4 decision in Sunday's series finale. Yankees catcher Russell Martin hit a two-run homer in the seventh inning and won it with a lead-off shot in the ninth against Mets reliever Jon Rauch.
Jordany Valdespin drove in a pair of runs, while Vinny Rottino and Ike Davis had an RBI apiece for New York, which is tied with Miami at five games off the pace in the NL East and 1-5 on a nine-game road swing. Scott Hairston had two hits and scored a run, and is batting .429 with 10 RBI in his last 12 games.
"Everybody goes through a bad stretch and this is ours," said Mets manager Terry Collins. "It didn't matter what move we made it didn't work. We just have to fight through it and pick each other up."
Mets starter Jon Niese gave up two unearned runs on seven hits over seven innings in the no-decision.
Chris Young is scheduled to make his second start of the season for the Mets tonight and returned to action last Tuesday in a 7-6 loss at Washington. Young, who underwent right shoulder surgery last season and hadn't pitched since May 1, 2011, did not record a decision against the Nationals and battled through five innings, allowing three runs -- two earned -- and six hits.
"I was just hoping that I wouldn't get overly excited to where I throw the ball all over the place," said Young. "I wanted to stay calm and hit my spots and work ahead in the count, and for the most part, I did that."
Young had a torn capsule in his shoulder repaired and went 1-0 with a 1.88 ERA in only four starts a year ago. He lost his only start to the Rays back on Aug. 2, 2005 as a member of Texas in a 10-8 loss. Young was rattled for seven runs and eight hits in 3 1/3 innings.
New York and Tampa Bay are meeting for the first time since the Rays won two of three meetings back in 2009. The Mets haven't been the visitor in this series since the 2001 campaign, losing two of three.