The Tampa Bay Rays have the same record through 105 games as they did in 2011, when they made their third playoff appearance in four years.
Coming off a successful road trip and possessing one of the hottest pitching staffs in baseball, they seem to have the confidence to make another run at the postseason.Matt Moore takes the mound as Tampa Bay begins an important three-game series against the visiting Baltimore Orioles on Friday night.The Rays (55-50) were seven games out of the wild card with the same amount of games played last year but made a run and qualified for the playoffs on the final day of the season. This year, Tampa Bay is locked in a tight five-team battle for a wild-card spot, with two available in each league through the new playoff format.The pitching staff is doing its part to help Tampa return to the postseason in 2012, leading the majors with a 2.45 ERA, 197 strikeouts and a .200 opponents' batting average since the All-Star break."As long as our pitchers are on a roll, we have a good shot," manager Joe Maddon told the team's official website.The Rays completed a 6-3 road swing with a 4-1 win over Oakland on Wednesday, as they finished the trip with a 1.70 ERA. Carlos Pena had a solo homer and an RBI double in the finale."It's pretty spectacular," Maddon said. "To win each series is about as good as it gets right now."Moore (7-7, 4.01 ERA) is coming off one of his better outings, having allowed four hits in 6 1/3 innings of a 3-0 win over the Los Angeles Angels on Saturday. He has gone 2-1 with a 1.86 ERA in his last three starts.The left-hander, who made his major league debut in relief Sept. 14 versus the Orioles, is 1-1 with a 1.74 ERA in two starts versus Baltimore this year. He gave up one earned run over six innings of an 8-4 victory in the most recent matchup June 3.Tampa Bay began its solid trip by taking two of three from the Orioles (55-50), who are tied with the Rays after a 12-3 loss to the Yankees on Wednesday snapped their three-game winning streak.Baltimore finds itself in the playoff hunt despite the defeat, and it's above .500 this late in a season for the first time since it was 60-60 on Aug. 17, 2005."It's fun to be playing games at this point in the year," said center fielder Adam Jones, whose next home run will give him a career high-tying 25 and 100 for his career. "It's my fifth year here, and it's the first time in August that the games really do matter. It's fun, and it's important."Jones has recorded at least one hit in 10 of his last 11 games for Baltimore, which has batted .221 in nine meetings with the Rays this season.Tommy Hunter is scheduled to take the hill for the Orioles looking to help prevent a sixth loss in eight meetings with Tampa Bay.Hunter (4-6, 5.68) pitched two-thirds of an inning in relief Wednesday, but is still scheduled to start Friday.The right-hander is 1-4 with a 6.36 ERA on the road but worked into the eighth inning in his last two outings away from home. He allowing three runs in seven-plus innings of the most recent one, a 3-1 loss to Cleveland on July 23.Hunter is 2-1 with a 3.63 ERA in four starts versus the Rays, last facing them in 2010.