This isn't the situation Alex Cobb envisioned pitching in against the Red Sox in late August.
The right-hander will take the mound Sunday afternoon at Tropicana Field trying to give the Rays the lead in the four-game series after the clubs split the first two games. But it won't be a showdown between two contenders -- as Tampa Bay and Boston were last season -- where a series up for grabs holds playoff implications.
No, the Rays are in fourth place in the American League East, and the Red Sox are well behind them in last. But Cobb said it's important to not focus on the possibility of the club's season drawing to a pre-October close.
"Really [it's about] not just eyeing the fact that the season's coming to an end -- not mentally getting brought down into that thought process," Cobb said. "That helps me finish strong.
"Guys can really see September and see if you're not in it, then the season winding down a little bit and just kind of ease back a little bit."
Cobb, although he is coming off his shortest outing of the season -- a four-inning, two-run start against the Orioles -- has not allowed more than two runs in nine consecutive starts. That's the longest active streak in the Majors and the longest in club history.
On Sunday, he'll oppose Red Sox righty Clay Buchholz. Buchholz hasn't had the same success Cobb has recently, but he did pitch into the ninth in his last start, going 8 1/3 innings and allowing three runs in a no-decision against the Blue Jays.
But he also hasn't won since July 18, a seven-start span in which he is 0-3 with a 6.35 ERA and has allowed six or more runs three times.
Though Buchholz and the Red Sox have struggled, Cobb doesn't view them as an ordinary last-place team.
"It's hard to believe this team's in the cellar right now," Cobb said. "It's definitely a very strong, offensive-powered team that we saw [Friday] night, so it's definitely going to be a challenge."
Rays: Amid tough stretch, Escobar gets scheduled day off
Shortstop Yunel Escobar, who was not in the starting lineup Saturday night, received a scheduled day off unrelated to his recent string of throwing errors.
Escobar had made three errors in Tampa Bay's past two games -- all throwing errors on potential double-play balls. The latest miscue, in Friday night's series-opening loss to Boston, allowed an inning to continue in which starter Chris Archer eventually surrendered a grand slam to Mookie Betts that gave the Red Sox an 8-0 lead.
"I've been wanting to give him a day off for a couple of days, and it's nothing to do with him making the mistake [Friday]," said Rays manager Joe Maddon, who started Ben Zobrist at short. "I think it's wise to give him a day off, especially when we have a run where we have no days off."
The Rays are in the midst of playing 20 games in 20 days -- Friday's series opener was the start of a 10-game homestand immediately following 10 straight games on the road.
Red Sox: Farrell leaning toward implementing a six-man rotation
Manager John Farrell expects to go to a six-man rotation as early as next week.
"We may look at going to a six man rotation just to build in an added day of rest," said Farrell. "How we then factor in the off-day that's coming after that, we can adjust again and go back for a turn through and not get too far removed from a previous start. There's quite a bit of possibility we'd go to a six-man rotation."
Part of the reasoning behind that is that the Red Sox have a number of young pitchers in the rotation at the moment who are approaching career highs in innings, including Brandon Workman, Allen Webster, Rubby De La Rosa and Anthony Ranaudo.
Even though Ranaudo was optioned to Class-A Greenville on Saturday to make room for the return of shortstop Xander Bogaerts, the young right-handed prospect is expected to be one of the six starters Farrell deploys.
• Archer allowed the Red Sox to bat around in the first and second innings Friday, the first time in franchise history a team has batted around twice on a Tampa Bay pitcher in the same game.
• Recently signed Red Sox prospect Rusney Castillo will play his first game as a professional in Fort Myers, Fla., on Sunday. The Cuban outfielder will likely play in the Minor League playoffs to get additional at-bats before debuting in the Majors.
David Adler is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.