Much has been made of Evan Longoria's return to the lineup, but it's thanks to the pitching staff the Tampa Bay Rays were able to keep in playoff contention while he was sidelined.
The Rays go for their season-high seventh straight win Monday night when they open a three-game series against the Seattle Mariners.Tampa Bay kicked off a 10-game road trip with a three-game sweep against Minnesota over the weekend. The Rays (62-52) won 7-3 in 10 innings Sunday to match a season high with their sixth straight victory.Jeff Keppinger homered, doubled and later drove in the go-ahead run in the 10th.Tampa Bay moved five games behind New York for first place in the AL East -- the closest it has been since the morning of June 26 -- and leads the AL wild card."I believe in all these guys," manager Joe Maddon said. "I like the energy with which we're playing."It was the third time in four games Maddon's club scored at least seven runs.The Rays haven't lost since the return of Longoria, who missed 85 games because of a partially torn left hamstring. While Longoria's hitting .261 (6 for 23) with a double and four RBIs in his return, Maddon said he may give his slugger Monday off.Perhaps overlooked in Tampa Bay's run is an incredible stretch by its pitching staff. The Rays lead the AL with a 3.38 ERA, and they have compiled a 1.81 mark while limiting opponents to a .181 batting average while winning 15 of 22.Alex Cobb (6-8, 4.32 ERA) will try to extend this stretch Monday looking to win his third straight start.Cobb has given up one run in each of the last two outings, surrendering five hits while striking out seven in seven innings of a 3-2 victory over Toronto on Wednesday."That was the best curve I've seen all year from any of our pitchers," Maddon said. "To both righties and lefties, it was quick, it was hard, there was no hump in it."Cobb is 0-2 in two starts against the Mariners, including one this year. He left his July 21 start after being struck in the lower leg. He had allowed two runs and three hits in two innings.The Mariners (53-63) have a little momentum of their own, winning the final two of a three-game series against the Los Angeles Angels. They closed a nine-game road trip with a 4-1 victory Sunday.Seattle returns home, where it most recently swept Kansas City and Toronto to put together a seven-game winning streak -- its longest since winning nine in a row at home June 23-July 12, 2007."I felt like we got over the hump a little bit the last homestand, both offensively and win-loss wise," manager Eric Wedge told the Mariners' official website.Jesus Montero will try to keep that run going. He homered twice Sunday and is hitting .367 with 17 RBIs in the last 23 games.The Mariners will turn to Blake Beavan (7-6, 5.12), who has won his last four decisions.Beavan allowed four runs and two homers in six innings of an 8-7, 14-inning loss to the Orioles on Tuesday.The right-hander has split two starts against the Rays this year. He was charged with one run and four hits in eight innings of a 2-1 victory July 22.Tampa Bay is 5-2 against Seattle this year, losing the last two meetings.