Tampa Bay, red-hot after a sweep of the Wild Card-leading Red Sox, has a chance to narrow that gap even further with a series against last-place Baltimore starting on Monday at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
Widely believed to be all but out of the playoff chase just a few weeks ago behind the high-powered Red Sox and Yankees in the AL East, Tampa Bay is suddenly just 3 1/2 games behind the Red Sox in the Wild Card.
"The team has been playing great and we definitely want to get the road trip off to a good start in Game 1 and set the tone," said Jeff Niemann, who will start Monday for the Rays. "I'm looking forward to getting back out there."
Through Aug. 7, the Rays were 59-54 and 11 games back of then-first-place Boston. Since Aug. 8, Tampa Bay has the best record in the division (22-10).
The Rays may have helped themselves further when they added left-hander Matt Moore from Triple-A Durham on Sunday. The 22-year-old is the team's top-rated prospect and the No. 3-ranked prospect on MLB.com's Top 50 Prospects list.
Moore went 12-3 with a 1.92 ERA in a combined 27 starts for Double-A Montgomery and Durham. He is expected to be used as a reliever, his agent told ESPN.
Trying to put a stop to Tampa Bay's winning streak Monday will be Baltimore left-hander Zach Britton, who has won three of his past four starts.
He beat the Rays on Sept. 2 in St. Petersburg, allowing four hits and two runs in six innings.
"I think he's better than he was earlier in the season," closer Kevin Gregg said of Britton after that game. "He's really coming up with a great game plan. An idea of himself. When he goes out there, he's really putting together a program that he can build off of."
After handling the Red Sox this weekend, it's up to Niemann to combat Britton and the Orioles to help the Rays avoid a letdown.
"I think everyone knows what our goal is in here," Niemann said. "And we're kind of doing what we can to reach it. Everyone's picking it up. Everyone's playing well. Everyone's playing hard. I don't think there will be any letdown. We know what we need to do. And that's all we're worried about."
Rays: Late-inning heroics aplenty
The Rays have climbed back into the playoff race in style. Tampa Bay has won in walk-off fashion a club-record 12 times already this season, and seven times in their last 23 home games (dating back to Aug. 22).
The club has also hit a record six walk-off homers this year.
The Rays have won 21 consecutive games when scoring five runs or more.
Outfielder Brandon Guyer -- who has two homers in 17 at-bats against lefties this season -- will likely start on Monday against the Baltimore rookie.
Orioles: Guerrero red hot
Baltimore slugger Vladimir Guerrero has batted .462 (12-for-26) with four doubles and a home run in his last seven games, with multi-hit performances in five of them.
Guerrero needs just 19 more hits to become the all-time hits leader for Dominican Republic-born players, trailing only Julio Franco (2,586 hits in 23 seasons) and Manny Ramirez (2,574 hits in 16 seasons).
Vlad's next home run will also tie him with Jeff Bagwell (449) for 35th place on baseball's all-time list.
Tampa Bay's Johnny Damon is one stolen base shy of becoming the ninth player all-time with 200 homers and 400 stolen bases, joining Barry Bonds, Bobby Bonds, Rickey Henderson, Craig Biggio, Joe Morgan, Paul Molitor, Marquis Grissom and Roberto Alomar.
The Orioles may not directly be involved in a playoff race, but they certainly have a chance to affect it on this homestand. After the three games against Tampa Bay, the Orioles will welcome the Angels, who are chasing Texas in the American League West.