The longer the Rays keep up their winning ways, the harder it is becoming to question the legitimacy of their run. Then again, they still haven't caught the Red Sox.
Tampa Bay is the hottest team in Major League Baseball since June 23, having won 19 of 23 games in that span and 17 of its last 19 after Sunday's 4-3 victory over the Blue Jays in Toronto. However, winning a series in Boston such as the four-game set that begins on Monday in Fenway Park would go a long way toward silencing any doubters who think the Rays have been the beneficiaries of a favorable schedule.
The Rays have won seven consecutive series. Their last series loss came in mid-June, when they dropped two of three to the Red Sox (60-40), also at Fenway Park.
As impressive as the Rays have been recently, they had a losing record against the AL East before the All-Star break, and the Red Sox played a large role in that.
Tampa Bay is 3-9 against Boston so far this season, but Monday may be the club's best opportunity to improve that mark.
The Rays will send All-Star left-hander Matt Moore to the mound, while Boston will turn to rookie Brandon Workman.
Moore set a Rays record by becoming the first Tampa Bay pitcher to amass 13 wins before the break, an accomplishment that not even teammate David Price could match on his way to winning the AL Cy Young Award last season.
Moore has struggled with his command at times, entering Monday with the fifth-worst walk rate (4.6 per nine innings) in the big leagues.
"Getting ahead early is big for me," Moore said. "When I do that, I can go to my other pitches and the game goes smoother."
Workman, meanwhile, has shown plenty of promise. He started Boston's final game before the All-Star break and carried a no-hitter into the seventh inning of a 3-2 loss to the A's in Oakland. Josh Donaldson hit a two-run home run in the seventh that knocked Workman out of the game.
"As well as he pitched against a very good team in Oakland -- and we're going to have a team that's coming in here as hot as anyone in the game right now -- the one thing that he does is he throws a lot of strikes," Red Sox manager John Farrell said.
"I think the one thing that we're learning, at least at the Major League staff, is that this is a guy who has kind of quiet confidence about him and doesn't fear the setting in which he's performing."
Rays: Loney returns as a father
The Rays were able to take the first two games from the Blue Jays without one of their most consistent hitters, but James Loney's bat was back in the lineup on Sunday.
Loney missed the first two games after the break while on the paternity list, as his wife, Nadia, gave birth to the couple's first son, James Jordan, on Thursday.
"It's definitely an amazing feeling," Loney said. "You don't know what to really expect until it happens. It's a feeling like no other."
Red Sox: Victorino back in action
• Shane Victorino returned to the Red Sox's lineup on Sunday after tightness in his left hamstring held the veteran outfielder out of Saturday's 5-2 loss to the Yankees. Victorino didn't waste much time finding a way to contribute, going 2-for-5 with two RBIs.
Victorino was placed on the disabled list after straining the same hamstring in May. He has started 61 games in right field for Boston this season and is hitting .290.
• Catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia admitted that it's difficult for the Red Sox to avoid occasionally taking notice of the standings, especially with Tampa Bay making a sustained run.
"I think you can't help but look at them," Saltalamacchia said. "They're everywhere. You turn on the TV, they're on ESPN; they're on the plane; watching the game, they say it out loud. So, yeah, you know where everybody's at. At the same time, it doesn't matter at the time. At the end of the season is when the standings count."
• This is only the second time in team history the Rays have reeled off three straight wins following the All-Star break. They previously did it in 2009 at Kansas City.
• The Red Sox roughed up Moore during his only prior appearance at Fenway, striking for six runs in 6 1/3 innings in a 6-4 win last April 15.
Sam Strong is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.