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Preview: Rays Face Uphill Climb Back To First As Padres Visit The Trop

(Sports Network) - The Tampa Bay Rays are out of first place for the first time since late April. It won't be easy to get back to the top of the American League East tonight, as they open a three-game set against Mat Latos and the San Diego Padres at Tropicana Field.

Latos has been one of the best pitchers in baseball over the last month and a half, winning six of his last seven decisions, while pitching to a 2.05 earned run average with 54 strikeouts in his last 52 2/3 innings.

The 22-year-old righty, who has never faced the Rays, won his second straight start last Tuesday against Toronto, holding the high-powered Jays offense to two runs and four hits in 6 2/3 innings. He also struck out seven with a walk in the win.

Latos will be facing a Rays club that has lost seven of their last 10 after dropping the rubber match of their three-game set with Sunshine State rival Florida and its starter Josh Johnson on Sunday, 4-1.

Reigning American League Player of the Week Carl Crawford hit a solo homer for Tampa Bay in the loss, while David Price (10-3) was saddled with the loss, allowing four runs -- three earned -- on six hits over six innings of work. The young lefty, who had won seven of eight contests coming in, fanned nine and walked two.

"He's one of the better pitchers in either league," Rays manager Joe Maddon said about Johnson. "He pitched well. We hit some balls decent. I thought we had a good approach, but he's good."

While the Rays fell out of first for the first time since April 22 over the weekend, San Diego regained the top spot in the NL West thanks to taking two of three from the woeful Baltimore Orioles. The Padres nailed down a series victory on Sunday, as Will Venable homered and tied a career-high by driving in four runs to help Jon Garland overcome a shaky start in the 9-4 win at Petco Park.

Garland (7-5) overcame a four-run first inning and wound up tossing six innings to earn the win on five hits allowed, while walking two and striking out three. He retired the last 14 hitters he faced to lead the Padres to their third win in five games.

Adrian Gonzalez doubled three times, scored twice and drove in a run, and Nick Hundley belted a home run and knocked in three for San Diego, which improved to 7-5 in interleague play this season.

Gonzalez has hit safely in 17 of his past 20 games, going 32-for-76 (.421) during that stretch with six home runs, nine doubles, 19 RBI and 15 runs scored.

The Padres will take their cuts this evening against right-hander Wade Davis, who has lost his last three starts. Davis fell to 5-7 on the year on Wednesday in Atlanta, as he allowed three runs and seven hits in just five innings to raise his ERA on the year to 4.94.

Davis has never faced the Padres.

The Rays have dropped two of three to the Padres in San Diego's last two visits to the Trop.

Photographs by, thelastminute, turtlemom nancy , fesek, kthypryn, justinwright, sue_elias, pointnshoot, and scrapstothefuture used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.