The Red Sox made one statement against a division rival on their heels this weekend. Now the Rays will give Boston their best shot.
After taking three of four from the Yankees, who trail the Sox by 10 games in the American League East and are two games back of the second AL Wild Card spot, Boston will make a trip south to take on the Rays.
The Red Sox lead the Rays by 7 1/2 games in the division, but Tampa Bay is clinging to the second Wild Card spot -- behind Texas, and ahead of Cleveland, Baltimore and New York -- despite a 3-7 road trip out West.
"We've got enough baseball left. We're still in a position to make the postseason," said Tampa Bay ace David Price, who will start Tuesday. "We still control our own destiny. That's a big thing for a team right now, in September. For us to have put ourselves in the position we're in right now is very big."
Clay Buchholz, who hasn't pitched in a big league game since June 8, threw a bullpen session Sunday and will start Tuesday's series opener.
"Everything was good," Buchholz said Sunday of his bullpen session. "I threw all my pitches. Curveball was probably the sharpest pitch I threw, and that's usually the last one I get the feel for in Spring Training. I threw everything: Cutter, sinker, fastball. It all felt fine."
The right-hander is expected to throw 75-80 pitches against the Rays, who have gone 4-11 since Aug. 25. Tampa Bay's AL Wild Card lead has dropped from five games to just two over Baltimore and Cleveland and 2 1/2 over New York.
Price can help start the series off on the right foot, after taking his seventh loss of the season in his latest start against the Angels. He gave up six runs on 11 hits Thursday, and he has a 2-4 record and 3.76 ERA at Tropicana Field this season.
But the lefty has good success against the Red Sox this year, with a 2-1 mark and 2.55 ERA in four starts.
"He's throwing the ball great," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "There's not a thing wrong about the way he's throwing the baseball. His stuff has been fabulous. I'm just looking for all of this to come together at the right time. We're going through a tough moment right now on the other side of the country. Get back to our home cooking, our own beds, get that vibe going again and finish strongly and take it into October, that's how I'm seeing it right now."
Buchholz is 9-0 with a 1.71 ERA, but he was sidelined due to neck and shoulder issues.
Red Sox: Napoli power surge
• Mike Napoli, who entered as a ninth-inning pinch-hitter on Sunday, has multihit games in four of his last five games, and is 9-for-18 with four homers and nine RBIs in that span.
He's hit three homers and driven in seven runs over his past three games.
• The Red Sox this weekend secured their Major League-best 30th series win of the year. Entering Sunday, no team in baseball had won more than 27 series. Boston has won its last six, the longest streak since a six-series winning streak from July 1-24, 2011.
Rays: Coming home
The Rays return to Tropicana Field for the three-game set against Boston, and will play 11 of their next 14 at home. Over the past two seasons, the Rays are 23-8 at home in September.
"We're going through a tough moment right now on the other side of the country," Maddon said. "Get back to our home cooking, our own beds, get that vibe going again and finish strongly and take it into October, that's how I'm seeing it right now."
• Evan Longoria's next home run will make him just the second Rays player to record three 30-homer seasons, joining former Tampa Bay first baseman Carlos Pena. Longoria would also become the 12th active player to post three 30-homer seasons before his 28th birthday and only the eighth third baseman to ever do so.
• The Rays just wrapped up a stretch of 13 straight games against AL West teams during which they went 4-9. They're playing 37 games in 38 days to finish the regular season, with Monday coming as their final day off.
• The Red Sox have won 10 of the 16 meetings between the two teams this year, but have hit just .211 and averaged 3.7 runs per game in the season series.
• The Red Sox have won 18 more games than last year, marking the club's largest increase in wins -- outside of strike-shortened seasons in 1981 and '94 -- since the '67 Sox won 20 more than the '66 team.