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 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.
"A tough night offensively for us," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said.
Gibson, meanwhile, allowed four runs and four hits over six innings. He walked four and struck out three.
It was the second straight loss for the 25-year-old right-hander, who beat Kansas City in his big league debut on June 29 before being roughed up five days later by the New York Yankees.
Gibson limited the Rays to one baserunner through three innings, but ran into trouble after walking two batters to begin the fourth. James Loney drew a two-out walk to load the bases, and Joyce and Johnson followed with their big hits to dump the Twins into a 4-0 hole they couldn't escape with a sputtering offense.
After going 2 for 12 with runners in scoring position while losing Monday's series opener 7-4, the Twins failed to take advantage a couple of early opportunities against Archer. They were 0 for 3 with runners in scoring position in the first two innings, then didn't have another batter reached base until Dozier was hit by a pitch leading off the sixth.
Archer's errant pickoff throw -- Tampa Bay's first error in 10 games -- allowed Dozier to advance to third before Doumit delivered his sacrifice fly.
"I thought Gibby threw the ball well all except one inning where he just lost the strike zone. I thought he settled in after that and went back out there for a couple more good innings. One bad inning un-done us," Gardenhire said.
"Offensively early, we were banging some balls pretty hard. I thought we were hitting them on the screws at people, and their kid settled in there pretty decent. Did what he had to do, and got to the bullpen and they threw some really good arms at us there," Gardenhire added.
"We all know Rodney, I think, is going to misfire a little bit, but he's got filthy stuff. We got him in a situation, but he made pitches when he had to."
- 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.