A discouraging stretch over the last week has dropped the Tampa Bay Rays out of first place in the AL East.
The Philadelphia Phillies, meanwhile, have been scuffling for weeks and Cliff Lee is still winless.When these two struggling teams meet in Friday night's series opener in Philadelphia, Lee could give the Phillies the upper hand considering the Rays' recent offensive woes -- especially against left-handers.After holding a half-game lead atop the AL East on June 10, Tampa Bay (38-31) has lost six of nine to drop into third -- 3 1/2 back of the first-place New York Yankees. The Rays haven't had much success offensively in that stretch, plating three runs or fewer six times.Unable to get much going against Gio Gonzalez in losing Thursday's finale to Washington 5-2, Tampa Bay dropped to 9-14 against left-handed starters -- the eighth-worst mark in the majors.The Rays, hitting .225 against lefties -- and just .183 this month -- now have to face Lee (0-3, 3.48 ERA).Lee wasn't particularly sharp Saturday in Toronto, allowing five runs and a season-high 12 hits in seven innings of the Phillies' 6-5 loss in 10. Philadelphia has lost eight of his 11 starts, but Lee's run-support average (2.90) is third-lowest in the majors."I can only control what I can control, I'm not going to get frustrated," Lee said. "Obviously I would like to have more wins. I would like for us to win more, period."Lee hasn't faced the Rays since pitching for Texas in the 2010 AL division series, when he tossed a couple of gems. In Game 1, he struck out 10 over seven innings in a 5-1 victory, and he lifted the Rangers to the ALCS by fanning 11 without a walk while completing Game 5.He'll now be looking to add to the misery of B.J. Upton, who is hitting .156 with 10 strikeouts in his last seven games, and Ben Zobrist, who is batting .176 with one RBI in the last five.Although the Rays, who have made the playoffs three of the last four years, are struggling, they're still in possession of one of the AL's wild-card spots.Five-time defending NL East champ Philadelphia has much more work to do. The Phillies (33-38) are 5-13 since June 2, dropping from 2 1/2 games out to nine behind the first-place Nationals.Philadelphia is coming off Thursday's 4-1 loss to Colorado as it failed to complete its first three-game sweep. Jimmy Rollins hit a leadoff home run, and is batting .385 with seven doubles and eight runs in the last nine games."We have to come back out (Friday) with the outlook we're going to win (Friday's) game and play better," manager Charlie Manuel said.The Phillies will be going up against James Shields (7-4, 3.72), who has allowed four runs -- one earned -- and 12 hits over 14 innings in his last two starts, both against Miami. The right-hander had recorded an 8.18 ERA in losing his previous two outings.Shields last faced Philadelphia in Game 2 of the 2008 World Series, throwing 5 2/3 scoreless innings in a 4-2 win -- Tampa Bay's lone victory in the Fall Classic.The following June, the Rays took two of three from the Phillies at home, improving to 10-3 in the last 13 regular-season matchups. This is their first meeting at Citizens Bank Park since the World Series.