The Tampa Bay Rays have played so well recently it's hard to believe their lineup failed to produce a base runner a little over a week ago.
Inching closer to the top of the AL East, Tampa Bay seeks to stay hot Friday night when it hosts the Oakland Athletics, who are part of a three-way tie for the league's second wild-card spot.The Rays have been on a roll since being the victim of Felix Hernandez's perfect game Aug. 15, winning seven of eight after Thursday's 5-0 win over Oakland.The victory pulled wild card-leading Tampa Bay (70-55) within 2 1/2 games of the idle New York Yankees for the division lead as it's gained 4 1/2 games in eight days.Alex Cobb tossed the Rays' 13th shutout -- second-most in baseball -- and Matt Joyce's two-run double highlighted a five-run fifth."We did a great job of putting together some hits, and usually when you string together some hits, some runs follow," Joyce told the team's official website. "That's going to be our key, to string together those hits."Tampa Bay's pitching has put together a string of solid outings, too, posting a 1.90 ERA over its last 12 contests, and Matt Moore has contributed to that stellar number.Moore (10-7, 3.57 ERA) is 4-0 with a 1.16 ERA over his last five starts after allowing two runs in 6 1/3 innings of his 8-3 win over the Los Angeles Angels on Sunday. The left-hander hasn't given up more than two runs in any of his last seven outings.Moore, though, had one of the worst starts of his career the last time he faced Oakland, giving up eight runs in 4 2/3 innings of a 9-5 loss May 6.Oakland's offense, however, mustered only four hits after winning six of its previous seven. The A's (67-57) fell into a tie with Baltimore and Detroit for the AL's second wild-card spot, 2 1/2 games behind the Rays.Stephen Drew snapped a 0-for-19 slump by going 2 for 3 with a double in his second game for Oakland, which was shut out for the league-worst 15th time."We've started to figure out the personnel better here, which enables us for the most part to combat (being shut out)," manager Bob Melvin said. "We do every now and then have a game like this currently where we get shut out. I don't see us a team that has been shut out that many times."The A's will look to bounce back behind Jarrod Parker (8-7, 3.48), who is coming off one of his best outings of the year. He busted out of his slump by allowing six hits in eight innings of a 7-0 win over Cleveland on Sunday.Parker went 0-3 with a 6.85 ERA over his previous four starts."He was outstanding," Melvin said. "After a rough start, he was on cruise control. His ball was coming out of his hand well, and you know the potentially poor period he was having is over now."The right-hander had a decent outing against Tampa Bay on Aug. 1, allowing three runs in six innings of a 4-1 loss in his only career start versus the Rays.Tampa Bay has won three straight meetings after dropping five of the previous six.