ST. PETERSBURG -- Coming into its current homestand, Tampa Bay had lost five of six. After dropping the first two games back at Tropicana Field, the chances of going to the playoffs were in serious jeopardy.
That's when manager Joe Maddon told his team to "put the blinders" on and just focus on itself, not the other teams in the standings. He added that the Rays had to go 1-0 each day, and they've done it four times since then, helping the club shrink the deficit to the second Wild Card slot to 3 1/2 games entering Sunday.
"You've got to focus on today -- per at bat, per pitch, whatever," Maddon said after an 11-5 win on Saturday. "That's the big difference. It's no big secret, we've been in the moment a whole lot better."
The Rays hitters have certainly stepped up their performance during the four-game winning streak, scoring 43 runs in that span, the most in team history over four games.
Maddon said the difference was that players are simply swinging at strikes and taking balls, and it's helped them earn a collective .381 average (56-for-147), with 28 extra-base hits -- including nine home runs.
"We understand that we've got to go out and win every game," said Evan Longoria, who hit one of four homers Saturday. "We really don't have any pressure on us. We don't have anybody crawling up our tail, we're just able to focus on the people in front of us."
Vogt makes first career start behind the dish
ST. PETERSBURG -- Stephen Vogt was in the lineup to make his first career start at catcher Sunday, as the Rays attempted to go for the sweep against the Blue Jays.
"I just came in today, saw it on the board, and got excited," Vogt said how he found out he was starting.
He said his wife and child, along with some friends from Port Charlotte, will be in attendance as he still looks for his first Major League hit after going 0-for-19 in three career stints in the big leagues. He's made just two starts with the Rays in his career, both as a designated hitter.
Vogt played most of the season with Triple-A Durham before being called up in September. With the Bulls, he hit .272 with nine homers and 43 RBIs in 94 games.
But it's the defensive versatility that originally allowed him to be with the team in April. Vogt said he played catcher all his life before being converted to an outfielder when he started playing professionally. It wasn't until 2011 that he started splitting time in the outfield and as a catcher again.
"My versatility's always been good," Vogt said. "I've always known I wanted catching to be the focus, but that I can also play outfield and first base, not the other way around. I'm just excited to get my first start in the field behind the plate where I'm most comfortable."
Having his first career start in the field as a catcher could be a blessing for the Rays. With Durham, he hit .341 in that spot, compared to just .227 as an outfielder, first baseman or designated hitter.
With a win Sunday, the Rays would match their best season record against the Blue Jays, a 14-4 mark the club achieved in 2009. Tampa Bay, after winning 11-5 on Saturday, clinched its 17th straight home series win against Toronto, dating back to April 6-8, 2007.
Third baseman Evan Longoria is one RBI shy of tying Aubrey Huff for third all-time on the club's list at 449. Carl Crawford leads the team with 592 RBIs, and Carlos Pena comes in at second with 464.
Greg Zeck is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.