ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Joe Maddon says a solid stretch of play — not a soft spot in the schedule — has helped the Tampa Bay Rays get back into the AL East race.
Chris Archer pitched six strong innings, while Matt Joyce and Kelly Johnson drove in two runs apiece to help the second-place Rays extend their winning streak to six games with a 4-1 victory over the sputtering Minnesota Twins on Tuesday night.
The Rays matched their longest winning streak of the year, climbed a season-best 11 games over .500, and improved to 8-1 during a stretch of 14 consecutive games against the struggling Twins, Chicago White Sox and Houston Astros leading to the All-Star break. The Twins have lost nine of their last 10.
"We're starting to play up to our capabilities," said Maddon, who shrugged off questions about Tampa Bay's surge coming against teams with losing records.
"We don't assume anything," the Rays manager said. "We aren't looking at records. We're just playing."
Archer (3-3) limited the Twins to an unearned run and three hits to outpitch fellow rookie Kyle Gibson (1-2), who was done in by one bad inning in his third career start for Minnesota.
Joyce drove in two runs with a two-out, bases-loaded single that snapped a scoreless tie in the fourth, the outfielder's first RBI's since June 15. Johnson followed with a two-run double for his first multi-RBI game since May 27 to give Archer all the support he would need.
"The team's been playing really well the last couple of weeks and we're starting to build a little confidence in each other," Joyce said. "Any big moment that comes up now, we have confidence in any guy in that position. ... I think that's how good teams win, and that's how they get on rolls like we're on right now."
The Rays' starter yielded Joe Mauer's first-inning double and singles by Trevor Plouffe and Chris Parmelee in the second. He retired 10 in a row before the Twins scored their only run without getting a hit, thanks to Brian Dozier being hit by a pitch, Archer's two-base throwing error and Ryan Doumit's sacrifice fly.
Alex Torres, Jake McGee and Fernando Rodney each pitched a scoreless inning for the Rays, with Rodney getting the final three outs to finish a combined five-hitter and earn his 21st save.
NOTES: Tampa Bay rookie OF Wil Myers, in a 5-for-31 slump, was out of the lineup for the first time since making his big league debut on June 18. With the Rays and Twins finishing up this series night game Wednesday followed by a Thursday matinee, Maddon said it was a logical day to give the young slugger a day off. ... Twins LHP Caleb Thielbar, whose grandmother died, will go on the bereavement list Thursday. He will rejoin the team this weekend and be eligible to pitch on Sunday against the New York Yankees. RHP Michael Tonkin will be recalled from Triple-A Rochester to fill Thielbar's spot on the roster. ... Minnesota OF Josh Willingham (left knee) has started doing light exercises. ... Twins OF Wilkin Ramirez (concussion-like symptoms) is still having headaches. He has missed the past 40 games. ... Despite losing its top two home runs hitters (B.J. Upton and Carlos Pena) from last season to free agency, the Rays are on a pace to hit 182 homers — seven more than in 2012.