There's been a lot of talk lately about the Rays losing their grip on the second American League Wild Card spot. Yet the Rays could be just one day away from tying the Rangers for the top Wild Card position.
The previously slumping Rays bounced back with their second straight win Friday night, shutting out the Twins, 3-0. That victory and the Rangers' loss to the A's moved Tampa Bay within one game of Texas in the Wild Card standings.
The full-game swing also created a little more breathing room -- still a relative term in this tightly contested playoff race -- from Cleveland (1 1/2 games back), New York (two), Baltimore (2 1/2) and Kansas City (3 1/2).
If there's an ideal time for the Rays to leap ahead, it's this weekend at Target Field, one of their few September respites from series against playoff contenders. They'll face the Twins for the second of three games Saturday night, with southpaw Matt Moore taking on Minnesota lefty Andrew Albers.
While the Rays' bats all but abandoned them during a 4-13 stretch that ended with Sunday's win over the Red Sox, their pitching continues to set the tone. Tampa Bay got an excellent start from Chris Archer on Friday, and Twins manager Ron Gardenhire expects two more from Moore -- who allowed one run on five hits over 6 1/3 innings Sunday against Seattle -- and David Price.
"This is pretty good. These guys can run some good threesomes out there," Gardenhire said. "We saw Detroit do the same thing with their pitching staff. We went through a stretch where we faced some pretty good pitchers, but not all with one team. So this is a pretty good stretch here against three starters from the same team.
"They're a team that can do a lot of different things. They have a lot of versatility with their players, and when it doesn't work, they find players who fill in nicely. But more than anything, it's starting pitching. They've been dominant with that the last few years here. They have a mold, and they keep bringing guys out [of] this mold."
Rays manager Joe Maddon noted that the Twins' record and place in the standings doesn't inherently make them an easy matchup this time of year. Minnesota is trotting out a lot of players Tampa Bay has never seen before. That includes Albers, who pitched seven scoreless innings and struck out five on Sunday against Toronto.
"They're so different. We know a couple of the guys, and what we think about a couple of the guys, but the rest of it's just reading and checking out on video. It's always a bit more uncomfortable facing the unknown," Maddon said. "I know they've not had the year they're looking for, but I have a lot of respect for the organization, for Gardy and the whole group. It's just more difficult, preparation-wise."
Rays: Crain getting closer to return
Reliever Jesse Crain threw a 50-pitch bullpen session Friday afternoon at Target Field. Sidelined by a right shoulder strain since the Rays acquired him on July 29, Crain could face hitters in live batting practice as soon as Monday. If that goes well, Crain could be ready to make his Rays debut as soon as Wednesday.
"It depends on how I feel and how it goes," Crain said. "I can probably tell the most how I feel and if I'm ready or not. I won't know that until I go out there and face those guys. If it goes real well, I could be ready a day or two after that. It just depends on what they want to do."
Maddon said Crain could be a huge difference-maker down the stretch for Tampa Bay, though he won't be inserted into high-leverage situations upon his arrival.
• Wil Myers hit his 15th double of the season Friday night. The rookie outfielder has a hit in six of his last seven games and is batting .348 (8-for-23) during that stretch.
Twins: Deduno set for surgery
Right-hander Samuel Deduno will undergo arthroscopic surgery on his right shoulder Wednesday, Twins general manager Terry Ryan said. The operation will repair Deduno's fraying rotator cuff, essentially a cleanup of his shoulder.
Deduno will rehab his shoulder over the next few months, keeping him out of winter ball this offseason, but will be ready for Spring Training next year.
"It's not a serious surgery, but it's something we think needs to be done," Ryan said.
• Third baseman Trevor Plouffe is hitting .324 (24-for-74) with five doubles, two homers and seven RBIs over his last 19 games since Aug. 24. Plouffe has reached base safely in 15 of those games and has put together multi-hit games in six of his last 11 outings.
• The Rays are 5-0 against the Twins this season and have won 10 straight games against Minnesota, the second-longest winning streak against an opponent in Rays history behind a 12-game winning streak over Baltimore in 2008.
• The Twins are 9-22 this season against the AL East.