Posted August 30, 2012 on AP on Fox
Outstanding pitching has been the theme of the second half for the Tampa Bay Rays, but it was the offense that helped them avoid a season-high fifth straight loss. Matt Moore has generally received a nice boost from the Rays' bats - even though he's rarely needed it of late. Moore has allowed seven runs in his last six starts, and he'll try to win a fifth straight decision Thursday night when visiting Tampa Bay opens this four-game set looking to continue its recent dominance of the Toronto Blue Jays. The Rays (71-59) posted a 1.70 ERA from July 28-Aug. 23, sparking a 19-6 run that catapulted them from 3 1/2 games out of the AL's second wild-card position to a 2 1/2-game edge for the top spot. Tampa Bay totaled 11 runs and fell back out of playoff position during a four-game skid, but the offense got going again Wednesday. Evan Longoria hit a two-run homer in the first inning - one of his two blasts - and B.J. Upton added a three-run shot in the second en route to an 8-4 win that pulled the Rays within one-half game of Baltimore for the second wild-card spot. "We knew we had to jump out fast,'' Upton said. "We did that and kind of kept our foot down after that.'' The Rays improved to 58-10 when they score at least four runs, and they've given Moore (10-7, 2.89 ERA) a team-high 5.58 runs of support per nine innings. Moore gave up three runs in 6 1-3 innings Friday against Oakland, leaving without a decision in a 5-4 loss. The rookie left-hander was 4-0 with a 1.16 ERA in his previous five starts. "I didn't use my changeup as much as I had been,'' Moore said. "It was more breaking ball and fastball. ... It was a little bit tougher to keep them off balance." Tampa Bay has certainly kept Toronto (58-71) guessing at the plate in 2012. The Rays have won five straight and nine of the last 10 in the season series, posting a 2.05 ERA in that stretch. Moore held the Blue Jays to one run and two hits over six innings in a 7-1 home win Aug. 9 after lasting only four innings in his first career outing at Toronto in May. This will be his first start at Rogers Centre. The Jays are 14-22 against left-handed starters - only Cleveland is worse among AL clubs - but didn't have much trouble against one of the game's best Wednesday. Yunel Escobar went 4 for 5 with a homer and five RBIs as Toronto scored five runs off the Yankees' CC Sabathia in an 8-5 win. By taking two of three, the Blue Jays won their first series since going 2-1 against Detroit from July 27-29. "Anything positive that happens to the club is going to be welcomed right now," Escobar told the team's official website through interpreter Jose Bautista. "Winning a series on the road against the Yankees is something that's definitely positive, and I hope it can bring up the team morale a little bit." Carlos Villanueva (6-4, 3.30) will try to end August on a positive note after going 0-4 with a 4.06 ERA in five starts this month. His worst outing came Friday at Baltimore, where he allowed four runs over 5 2-3 innings in a 6-4 loss. Villanueva gave up three runs in six innings in St. Petersburg earlier this month to lower his ERA to 11.93 in seven games - two starts - versus Tampa Bay. Ben Zobrist has three hits in six at-bats against Villanueva - all homers.
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