The odd team out last year among the AL East's trio of contenders, the Tampa Bay Rays have a chance to make sure one of their rivals is at an early disadvantage in 2010.
The Rays can add to the Boston Red Sox's worst start in 14 years by completing their first four-game sweep at Fenway Park and extending their winning streak to seven in Monday's annual Patriots' Day morning game.Three different AL East teams have won the last three AL pennants, but Tampa Bay missed the playoffs last season on the heels of its surprising run to the World Series in 2008.The Rays (9-3) and Red Sox figured to compete with the New York Yankees in perhaps the toughest division in the majors this year, but while Tampa Bay's fast start has the club tied for first place with the reigning World Series champions, Boston (4-8) is off to its worst 12-game start since 1996, when it was 2-10.Tampa Bay's success this weekend has been surprising considering the club began the series 28-74 all-time at Fenway, with its only sweep coming in a two-game set on June 30 and July 1, 1999.But the Rays picked up two victories Saturday, including the completion of Friday's suspended game, then beat Boston 7-1 on Sunday. They've yet to lose a road game, going 6-0 to start this 10-game trip.A win Monday would match the longest road winning streak in franchise history, set in June 2004."That's why this is even better, because we're playing on the road, here, playing well and the weather's been horrid, and that's all good stuff," manager Joe Maddon said. "It just speaks to focus and intensity."The Red Sox are 1-5 at home, where they went 56-25 for the second consecutive year in 2009.Boston hopes newcomer John Lackey (1-0, 1.42 ERA) can stop its four-game losing streak. The right-hander earned his first win with the Red Sox at Minnesota on Wednesday, allowing two runs in 6 2/3 innings."I'm just the new guy here, just kind of trying to get things done," Lackey said.Lackey was 9-1 with a 2.36 ERA against the Rays before allowing nine runs in five innings of the Los Angeles Angels' 9-5 loss at Tampa Bay on June 10.He has been a rare bright spot during Boston's ugly April, which has featured problems in almost every area."We're not doing a lot of things well right now," Boston manager Terry Francona said.Errors plagued the Red Sox during the first two games of this series and starter Jon Lester struggled in Sunday's loss. Boston's offense, meanwhile, has totaled seven runs in the last four games, going 0 for 25 with men in scoring position.That lineup will face Jeff Niemann (0-0, 3.24) after the right-hander held Baltimore to three runs in seven innings of the Rays' 8-6, 10-inning win Tuesday. It was a promising effort considering Niemann left his 2010 debut in the second inning, when he was struck in the shoulder by a line drive.Niemann struggled in his only previous start against the Red Sox, allowing six runs in three innings of a 10-6 loss on May 2.The Red Sox hope Monday's early first pitch gets them going. Boston has won its last six Patriots' Day games, which begin at 11 a.m. local time to correspond with the Boston Marathon."We'll be ready. It doesn't matter what time the game is, whether it's midnight or 11 o'clock in the morning, we'll be ready to play," Rays outfielder B.J. Upton said.J. Upton