The surging Rays put up some eye-popping offensive numbers against a fellow contender and will look for some revenge against the Royals on Monday night to start a three-game home set.
Tampa Bay (67-54) holds the AL's top wild-card spot after winning 11 of 13, capped by a four-game road sweep of the Angels. The Rays homered nine times and scored 37 runs - a team record for a four-game set - against one of the teams pursuing them for a postseason spot.
That kind of offense was largely absent when Tampa Bay produced six runs and batted .229 with 25 strikeouts while getting swept in three games June 25-27 at Kansas City (54-66).
Evan Longoria wasn't with the Rays then, and he went 5 for 16 with a pair of two-run homers in the Angels series. Ben Zobrist was 5 for 12 with two solo homers and six runs scored and B.J. Upton went 7 for 18 with two homers and five RBIs.
The Royals figure to be competitive despite not being in contention. While Tampa Bay is a major league-best 14-4 since July 31, Kansas City is 13-6 for the AL's second-best mark in that span.
Kansas City also swept a tough opponent over the weekend by taking three games from the AL Central-leading White Sox. Royals starters posted a 1.74 ERA in the series after Jeremy Guthrie took a no-hitter into the seventh inning of Sunday's 5-2 victory.
"It was a full-team affair, starting pitching, bullpen, clutch hitting, great defense," manager Ned Yost said. "It was a great series for us."
"The thing that I really like about Sal in the five-hole right now is that he provides great protection behind Billy," Yost said.
The Rays haven't produced much offense in losing their last seven home games started by Jeremy Hellickson (7-8, 3.39 ERA). He is 0-6 with a 5.45 ERA in that span, with Tampa Bay totaling 12 runs of support.
The right-hander gave up one run over seven innings opposite Felix Hernandez 's perfect game in last Wednesday's 1-0 loss at Seattle. Hellickson excelled in his lone career start against the Royals last year, yielding one run over 7 1-3 innings as he failed to get a decision Aug. 8 in a 2-1 home victory.
The Royals have dropped 24 of their last 30 games at Tropicana Field, including five straight.
They will give Will Smith (4-4, 5.09) his first career start against Tampa Bay. The rookie left-hander has allowed two runs over seven innings in winning each of his last two outings, beating Oakland 3-2 last Wednesday.
The Rays have played 13 straight days entering this series, and manager Joe Maddon is concerned about how his club will be affected by the cross-country flight.
"It's a scheduling thing and it's not easy because it's not just about (Monday)," Maddon told the Rays' official website. "Tuesday's going to be even worse, in regards to energy level."
|Kansas City Royals|
|August 18, 2012||Chris Getz||15-Day DL||Broken left thumb|
|August 17, 2012||Chris Getz||Day-to-Day||Left game - fractured left thumb|
|July 28, 2012||Mike Moustakas||Day-to-Day||Left game - sprained right knee|
|July 05, 2012||Luke Hochevar||Day-to-Day||Sprained right ankle|
|June 18, 2012||Chris Getz||15-Day DL||Lateral strain in lower left leg|
|June 18, 2012||Chris Getz||15-Day DL||Lateral strain in lower left leg|
|Tampa Bay Rays|
|August 05, 2012||Ben Zobrist||Day-to-Day||Left game - upper back spasms|
|July 21, 2012||Luke Scott||15-Day DL||Right oblique strain|
|July 21, 2012||Alex Cobb||Day-to-Day||Left game - right knee contusion|
|July 02, 2012||Hideki Matsui||Day-to-Day||Left game - left hamstring tightness|
|June 30, 2012||Jeremy Hellickson||Day-to-Day||Left game - bruised right shin|
|June 29, 2012||David Price||Day-to-Day||Left game - lower back tightness|
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) -- Jeremy Hellickson found success again at Tropicana Field and helped the Tampa Bay Rays stay hot.
Hellickson pitched seven strong innings for his first home win in three months and the Rays beat the Kansas City Royals 5-1 on Monday night.
"I thought I was really good," Hellickson said. "Got ahead of guys. Curveball was pretty good. Just threw strikes for the most part."
Hellickson (8-8) allowed one run and six hits in ending a stretch of seven consecutive home winless starts, dating back to a 2-1 victory over Boston on May 16.
"It all started with the pitching," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "I think (Hellickson) set the tone. He was sharp."
Tampa Bay was coming off an 8-2 road trip that concluded with a four-game sweep over the Los Angeles Angels . The Rays had a 3.73 ERA before the All-Star break but have had 2.32 ERA since, lowering their season mark to an AL-best 3.31
Tampa Bay went ahead 4-1 in the fourth on Jose Labaton's RBI single and a run-scoring double from Desmond Jennings off Will Smith (4-5).
Hellickson worked out of a two-on, no-out jam in the sixth. The right-hander appeared to have induced a double-play grounder from Billy Butler , but second baseman Ryan Roberts throw after recording an out at second broke through the webbing on first baseman Jeff Keppinger 's glove and wound up behind the bag. Unfazed, Hellickson then got an inning-ending double-play from the next batter, Salvador Perez .
"I'm sure that glove may have Kepp's first first baseman's glove," Maddon said. "It had the old Rawlings label on it, so it was an old glove."
Hellickson was the losing pitcher in his last start - despite allowing one run over seven innings - last Wednesday against Seattle when Felix Hernandez threw the Mariners' first perfect game.
"I got some runs early and it's always nice," Hellickson said.
Tampa Bay reliever J.P. Howell worked a scoreless eighth to extend his team record scoreless streak to 25 2-3 innings. Kyle Farnsworth got the final three outs in a non-save situation.
Elliot Johnson put the Rays ahead 1-0 on a run-scoring single in the second. Jennings hit a third-inning triple and scored on Smith's wild pitch as Tampa Bay took a 2-1 lead.
Smith lasted just 3 2-3 innings, giving up four runs and eight hits. The left-hander had won his previous two starts, allowing two runs over seven innings in games against both Baltimore and Oakland.
"After the first inning, I was just bad," Smith said. "No location, no breaking ball, which really hurt. I was falling behind too much. I just wasn't any good. You have those days but you hate having them."
Keppinger extended the Rays' advantage to 5-1 with a fifth-inning solo homer.
Kansas City tied it at 1-all on Alex Gordon 's RBI infield single during the third. The Royals completed a 5-1 homestand on Sunday, which included a three-game sweep over the AL Central-leading Chicago White Sox this past weekend.
"We're playing well, but it's a tough place to play and they're playing very, very well," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "Their starting pitching's outstanding."
Notes: Maddon expects 3B Evan Longoria , who has been limited to DH since returning from a partially torn left hamstring on Aug. 7, will play defense later this week. Longoria was rested Monday night. ... Kansas City RHP Luke Hochevar (7-11) and Tampa Bay LHP David Price (16-4) are Tuesday night's scheduled starters. Hochevar is 0-2 with an 11.20 ERA in three career road starts against the Rays. ... Tampa Bay DH Luke Scott (strained right oblique) could rejoin the team Tuesday. ... Gordon had two hits in three at-bats. He entered the game 2 for 53 at Tropicana Field.