Rays hoping bats heat up against Red Sox

MLB

For the Tampa Bay Rays’ struggling offense, the Boston Red Sox can’t get to Florida’s Gulf Coast soon enough.

The American League East-leading Rays (28-15) host the division rival Red Sox (15-29) in a four-game series at Tropicana Field in their last meetings of the short season, starting Thursday night in St. Petersburg.

While the clubs are at opposite ends of the AL East — Tampa Bay held a 3 1/2-game lead over Toronto entering Wednesday’s games, last-place Boston trailed the Rays by 13 1/2 — the leaders are dragging home a two-game losing streak while the Red Sox won their last time out against Philadelphia.

Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash can point to an obvious culprit for his team losing three of its last four games and seeing its division lead slip some — quiet bats in his lineup.

Since the Rays returned from Yankee Stadium last Wednesday, the Rays won a series against the Miami Marlins and were swept in a two-game series by the Washington Nationals, and their nemesis was firmly planted at home plate.

Tampa Bay won a pair of one-run games against the Marlins but dropped the middle game of the series. Nationals pitchers Max Scherzer and Anibal Sanchez held the Rays in check in losses in the nation’s capital.

Over the five games, the Rays batted just .195 (32-for-164) and couldn’t come through in the clutch, leaving 34 runners on base.

“I think, more than anything, some nights, some days, some series you have a bunch of guys seeing the ball really well and having good at-bat after good at-bat and hitting balls hard,” Cash said. “We can’t find any consistency and rhythm in our lineup.”

Austin Meadows, a 2019 All-Star, has watched his average nosedive from .244 to .202 in September after going 2-for-27 this month — with 13 strikeouts and three walks and no extra-base hits or RBIs.

Added Cash, “We’ve got a handful of guys who are not being themselves for whatever reason. They’re searching for it, and that’s going to happen in the course of a season.”

The Rays punished Red Sox pitching in a four-game sweep last month by scoring 42 runs — including a season-high 17 in the finale — as they batted .364 and boomed nine homers in their lone series in Fenway Park — setting multiple team records on the trip.

Left-hander Josh Fleming (3-0, 3.52) has been a superb addition as the rotation’s No. 5 starter, replacing Yonny Chirinos (Tommy John surgery) on Aug. 23. He has struck out 11 and shown keen control with just two walks in 15 1/3 innings.

Red Sox rookie Bobby Dalbec has injected a game-changing presence into manager Ron Roenicke’s lineup.

Rated the organization’s No. 3 prospect by MLB Pipeline, the 25-year-old infielder has homered in four consecutive games — the only first-year Boston player to do that, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

“I’ve seen some great starts, but not the home runs like this,” Roenicke said. “With all the things going on, it’s great to see a young guy start off like that.”

Like Fleming, Boston’s Mike Kickham (1-0, 5.40) will make his first start against the opposition Thursday in the series opener. The left-hander, who earned his first career win in relief Saturday against Toronto, will start for the first time since 2013.

The Red Sox moved Andrew Benintendi (ribcage strain) to the 45-day injured list Tuesday, basically ending the left fielder’s season. He hit just .103 (4-for-39) and injured himself while tripping as he ran the bases.

–Field Level Media

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