Part of the Rays' troubles have stemmed from the starting pitching. Sunday was the 14th consecutive game in which a starter did not register a win. That matched the longest such streak by the club since the end of the 2010 season and start of '11. However, the offense, or lack thereof, has been more of a consistent headache.
A recent sample of results personifies the inconsistency of the Rays' offense. Over the course of the past four games, they have scored five runs. The previous four games before that, Tampa Bay scored 25.
"It's kind of been like that the whole season," manager Joe Maddon said. "We'll have a couple of really good offensive days and it kind of goes away. … We have to figure out how to break through."
Heading in an opposite direction than the Rays are the fourth-place Red Sox. After getting swept last weekend at Tropicana Field, Boston has stormed back to win seven in a row, creating a 4 1/2-game gap between the Sox and Tampa Bay.
Despite the dire circumstances, Maddon has not lost faith in his team.
"I believe it's going to happen," Maddon said. "I honestly, totally, absolutely, firmly believe it's going to happen. You just want to get it in gear.
"You don't want to create so much distance between us [and first-place Toronto]. And now we've got to worry about the team in front of us, the Red Sox. You've got to catch them first to catch the next guy and then catch the next guy. They're going to continue to play better, too. That's the concern. You just can't let it keep getting farther away. ... We're just not a consistent offensive team right now."
After three scoreless frames, the Red Sox got busy in the fourth when Jonny Gomes hit a leadoff single off starter Erik Bedard. Alex Hassan followed with a single through the middle, giving the rookie his first Major League hit while putting runners at first and second. The runners advanced to second and third when David Ross flew out to right.
Jackie Bradley Jr. walked to load the bases before Jonathan Herrera's sacrifice fly scored Gomes. Brock Holt's double to left past a diving Sean Rodriguez drove home two more to put the Red Sox up 3-0.
Bedard got chased with two outs in the fifth, which added up to a Major-League leading 27th time this season a Rays starter has pitched five innings or less.
"They fouled a lot of pitches off," Bedard said. "They were patient. I mean, they did their job. That's what you're supposed to do, and they came out on top."
Bedard allowed three runs on five hits while walking four and striking out four to take his fourth loss.
Boston ace Jon Lester frustrated Rays hitters for seven innings. Jerry Sands arrived from Triple-A Durham to play in Sunday's game and bat cleanup, but Lester turned him into one of the more frustrated of the Rays hitters by striking him out three times. Sands was making his first appearance in a Major League game since Aug. 6, 2012.
"Obviously, I would have liked to have had a better result, but it's probably not going to be my last three-strikeout game, ever," Sands said. "Lester was kind of putting the ball where he wanted to all day. He threw the ball pretty well.
"[Lester has been] one of their studs for years and years, and he wasn't missing over the plate very often. It's the first time I've seen him. He's pretty good."
The Rays' best chance against Lester came in the seventh when they placed runners at first and second with one out. But Lester retired pinch-hitter Yunel Escobar on a flyout to left and then struck out Kevin Kiermaier.
"The cliche holds true here," Red Sox manager John Farrell said. "Good pitchers, if you don't get to them early, they're going to settle into a rhythm and get stronger as the game goes on. We've seen that a number of times with Jon, today in particular."
Lester allowed no runs on four hits and a walk while striking out 12 to pick up his sixth win. He joined Toronto's Mark Buehrle, who struck out 11 Rays batters on April 2, as the only starting pitchers to record double-digit strikeouts against Tampa Bay in a game this season.
"Really good stuff," Maddon said. "First, his fastball was hotter. A lot of 95s. And then the curveball was exceptional and he was throwing it where he wanted to. The cutter is kind of a signature pitch for him. The velocity was up and the curveball was a really big pitch for him -- kind of backdoor, underneath the hitters. It was well done."
Garin Cecchini doubled off Juan Carlos Oviedo in the seventh to record his first Major League hit and RBI while pushing Boston's lead to 4-0. Given the Rays' offense, the Red Sox did not need the insurance run.
The Rays have now been shut out six times this season.
"Right now, [the offensive problems are about] a lot of confidence issues more than anything," Maddon said. "You can talk about mechanics and all that other kind of stuff, which is good and has to be in order. But at the end of the day, it's about how you feel. So right now, our players need our support and they're going to get it."