The Tampa Bay Rays seek to extend their win streak to four games as they close out a three-game set against in-state foe Miami at Marlins Park this afternoon.
Winners of four of the last six overall, the Rays are still clinging to first place in the American League East, albeit by just one-half game over the surging New York Yankees. An impressive 19-11 at home thus far, the Rays managed to move above .500 on the road (15-14) on Saturday thanks to a rousing 13-4 triumph in the second game of the series. The run total was the highest of the campaign for Tampa Bay and marked just the second time the club was able to reach double digits.
Ben Zobrist went deep twice, accounting for three hits and season-highs of four RBI and four runs scored for the visitors. Not to be outdone were Elliot Johnson, who registered four hits and drove in three, and Jose Molina who scored twice and also drove in three runs for the Rays.
"It's been a long couple of months for me to get things going," said Zobrist who also added a pair of walks. "But I felt good out there tonight and hopefully this is a sign of things to come."
Tampa starter Matt Moore earned his third win of the season as he gave up four runs on five hits and two walks, fanning nine through six innings.
Over on the other side Carlos Zambrano, who left the game early due to lower back stiffness, was shelled for seven runs on just five hits and three walks in 2 1/3 innings as Miami fell for the fifth time in as many games and is now four games out of first in the National League East.
Justin Ruggiano accounted for two of the eight hits logged by the Marlins, including a three-run home run in the bottom of the sixth.
Heading to the hill for the Rays this afternoon is James Shields. The California native, who was drafted by Tampa Bay in the 16th round in 2000, has not won since May 13 when the club slipped by Baltimore on the road, 9-8.
Most recently the right-hander was pitted against the Yankees on Tuesday, touched for seven runs -- five earned -- on seven hits and four walks, while striking out just two over five innings of action.
Shields, who began the 2012 campaign with a 6-1 mark, has a record of 5-2 all- time against the Marlins.
As for Miami, Anibal Sanchez is aiming to collect his second win in the last three outings today. The right-hander has actually won just twice since delivering a victory in his first appearance of the season versus Philadelphia back on April 9.
On Tuesday Sanchez was lit up by the Atlanta Braves, permitting a season-high seven runs on eight hits over 6 2/3 innings in an 11-0 loss.
Now an even 42-42 in his career, Sanchez has a record of 1-0 with a 4.50 ERA in two previous outings versus the Rays.
While the Marlins are in the middle of the pack when it comes to team ERA with a mark of 3.96 (16th), the starting pitchers have certainly been holding up their end of the bargain by posting 40 quality starts in 59 opportunities, the most of any team in the majors.
Tampa Bay has also had some bright spots from its pitching staff as well to this point in the season, ranking fifth in ERA (3.43) and fourth in opponent batting average (.237). However, the starters have had difficulty putting together consistent efforts which is why the Rays are 20th in baseball with only 29 quality starts.
The Rays, winners of six straight against Miami/Florida dating back to last season, now have an all-time interleague record of 121-134, the Marlins 137-120. The teams are set to collide once again for a three-game set in Tampa next weekend as well.