The Rays and Red Sox will face off Friday night in the first game of a series between the two 2013 AL East playoff teams -- and the current bottom two clubs in the division -- at Tropicana Field.
The Rays, who earned a Wild Card berth last year, are in last place. The Red Sox, last year's division and World Series champions, sit in fourth. Tampa Bay and Boston are the only two teams under .500 in the AL East.
Boston is entering the series on a seven-game losing streak, having just finished an 0-6 homestand, including a three-game sweep vs. Toronto.
"It's crazy," designated David Ortiz said following Thursday's 7-2 loss to the Blue Jays. "We were just talking about it in the shower, a couple of the guys. It's crazy seeing things going down like that. Just got to come back out and start playing better, man."
This series could carry a lot of weight for both teams. For the Rays, it's the first of three straight series against division opponents -- followed by a three-game set in Toronto and another in Boston. Playing three straight series in the division gives the Rays the potential to make up multiple games in the standings.
In Friday night's contest, Chris Archer will take the mound for Tampa Bay. Archer is 3-2 with a 4.59 ERA, but he is coming off one of his better starts, a 5 2/3, no-run effort to beat the Angels.
Archer will be pitching on a full week of rest -- he would have pitched Thursday's game if not for the return of Alex Cobb from the disabled list.
"The one thing I've been talking to him about more than anything is tempo -- getting the ball, throwing the ball," manager Joe Maddon said. "With him in particular, I'd like him to have a little bit better pace to him. I think when he has a little bit better pace to him, he's not overthinking and the results turn out to be better."
John Lackey, who is 5-3 with a 4.01 ERA, will start opposite Archer. The big right-hander struggled in his last outing, allowing six runs (five earned) in 5 1/3 innings to a potent Detroit lineup.
But Lackey beat the Rays when he last faced them, throwing eight innings of two-run baseball in a 7-4 win on April 29 at Fenway Park.
Archer pitched the last game of that series for Tampa Bay, the second game of a doubleheader, and got a no-decision after allowing five runs in 4 2/3 innings. Archer was shutting down the Red Sox until the fifth, when he lost his command, walking three, throwing a wild pitch and hitting a batter.
The Rays rallied late for a 6-5 win.
Rays: Maddon talks tempo
It's not just Archer who works at a slow pace. On Wednesday, Maddon talked about the effect of game speed on his club.
"I know we play some really slow games," Maddon said. "It's not lost on me, from observing it and when it's being brought to my attention."
Maddon also said he isn't sure if a slow tempo has a negative effect on the defense, but that at times, he has seen the signs of an energy lapse when he's looked for it.
"Most of the time, I don't necessarily focus on that because I'm so locked into the game, but there's times I have," Maddon said. "And then you see somebody take their hat off, or the ... big breath kind of a thing. So it has its moments, they're definitely interconnected, and listen -- I'm all for pitchers working more quickly."
Red Sox: Bogaerts on a roll
Xander Bogaerts has been one positive for the Red Sox of late, reaching safely in his last 10 games by going 14-for-37 with three doubles, a triple and two homers. He has nine hits in his last 18 at-bats.
"I'm just seeing the ball good," Bogaerts said. "I made some adjustments . I'm hitting the ball good right now, but we're not winning so it's frustrating."
• Speaking of tempo, Wednesday night's Rays game lasted 3 hours, 53 minutes, the longest game in Major League history in which a team had one hit or fewer.
• Fifteen of Boston's 46 games have been one-run games, which is tied for the most in the American League. The Red Sox are 5-10 in those games, and those 10 losses are tied for second in the AL.
David Adler is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.