Both the Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays plan on winning the ultra-competitive AL East, but each club has encountered a bevy of problems lately as it chases the reigning World Series champions.
A few star players may miss Tuesday's opener of the teams' two-game set at Fenway Park, and the floundering Rays are also dealing with a clubhouse controversy as they try to improve to 5-0 at Boston this year.The Red Sox (46-31) trailed Tampa Bay by as many as 8 1/2 games last month, but they've passed the Rays (44-31) and pulled into second place behind the New York Yankees thanks to a 19-8 surge since May 29.Boston, however, is hoping its weekend series in San Francisco won't prove too costly as it chases a seventh playoff berth in eight seasons. The Red Sox took two of three from the Giants but lost a key player to injury in each game.Dustin Pedroia, the 2008 AL MVP, is on the disabled list with a broken foot, while the statuses of right-hander Clay Buchholz (hyperextended left knee) and catcher Victor Martinez (broken thumb) are less clear."It's kind of a bad patch we've got going right now," said left-hander Jon Lester, who pitched a complete game in Sunday's 5-1 win. "We'll get guys to fill in spots that need to be filled in and we'll keep battling as we have been all year. We're going to fight. We're not just going to lay down and let everybody beat us up."The Rays, also dealing with a key injury as outfielder Carl Crawford nurses a sore shoulder, were nearly beating each other up Sunday as they lost for the eighth time in 11 games.B.J. Upton and Evan Longoria had a heated argument in the dugout after Upton chased a triple by Arizona's Rusty Ryal at less-than-full speed during Tampa Bay's 2-1 defeat."It's a byproduct of a frustrated team," Longoria said. "We're trying to win games and guys are going to have differences of opinion. I just wanted to know what was going through his head. The bottom line, we've talked about it and it goes no further than (Sunday)."Tampa Bay hopes the same is true of its offensive struggles. The Rays, who were no-hit by Arizona's Edwin Jackson on Friday night, totaled seven hits while dropping two of three to the Diamondbacks.James Shields (6-7, 4.55 ERA) will also be trying to snap his own personal slump. The Rays' opening day starter earned a win in relief June 19, but has lost his last six starts, posting a 7.12 ERA in that stretch.The right-hander finally earned his first career win at Fenway on April 17, part of Tampa Bay's four-game sweep, but he's still 1-6 with a 7.53 ERA in seven outings at Boston.Victories have not been a problem for Boston's John Lackey, who has won his last six home starts. Lackey (8-3, 4.69) was in line for another win despite giving up five runs in 6 2/3 innings Wednesday at Colorado, but the Red Sox bullpen crumbled in an 8-6 loss.The Rays are the only team to beat Lackey at Fenway this year, scoring eight runs in 3 1/3 innings during an 8-2 win April 19. The right-hander improved to 10-3 in his career against Tampa Bay with 6 1/3 strong innings in an 11-3 win May 26, part of Boston's three-game sweep at Tropicana Field.The road team has won all seven games between these clubs in 2010, and the Rays are trying to win five straight in Boston for the first time in franchise history.