Sure, everyone expected the Tampa Bay Rays to one day again take the field as a first-place team. Unfortunately for them, it will be Progressive Field -- where the Cleveland Indians have not lost in more than a month.

No one expected the Rays to be atop the AL East on this May 10 -- a month after they were weighted down in the cellar with a 1-8 record.

But that is what the Rays will be on Tuesday when they open a three-game series against the Indians -- a surprising American League division leader of a different ilk, which has won 13 straight home games since April 3.

Whereas the Indians weren't expected to turn the corner this quickly off consecutive 90-loss seasons, the defending AL East-champion Rays were presumed cornered by the departures of numerous free agents. That fate appeared confirmed by their woeful start.

After finishing off a sweep in Baltimore on Sunday with their club-record eighth-straight win on the road, the Rays are 19-6 since that 1-8 outset. Technically, they are still percentage points behind the Yankees (.006 to be precise), but that can't squelch the feeling of accomplishment.

"We're playing good baseball right now," said Ben Zobrist, who has hit in 14 straight games. "We're hitting the ball really well, scoring some runs, which is nice. It keeps things going, everybody gets excited when you're scoring a lot of runs."

To keep the vibes going and the wins coming, the Rays now turn to Andy Sonnanstine, who hopes to revive his starting career as he goes up against the Indians' Josh Tomlin.

For Tampa Bay, it could be a tall order: Tomlin is still riding a career-opening streak of having gone five-plus innings in each of his 18 starts, the first Cleveland hurler ever to pull that off.

In his brief career, Tomlin has seldom come across a hitter as hot as the Rays' B.J. Upton, who spent his weekend in Baltimore going 7-for-14 and driving in eight runs.

Sonnanstine can use all the help he can get. A regular member of the Rays' 2007-08 starting rotations who transitioned to relief work, he has made only four starts since the middle of September 2009.

Sonnanstine is needed now to step in for Jeff Niemann, who went on the disabled list with a stiff back, and the Rays have hopes he can make it more permanent.

"I'm looking for it to be more than a one-start deal," said Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon. "The thing about him I love ... he works every day at something. He always stays ready. I know he's going to be prepared for the Indians. He's pitched in a World Series. He's not intimidated by anything. And I really feel good that he's going to pitch there."

Sonnanstine has some long relief outings under his belt -- he went 5 1/3 innings on April 10 in Chicago, then three frames on Wednesday against the Blue Jays -- so Maddon has no leash worries.

"He takes care of himself. I'm not concerned with 75 or 80 pitches, or even a little more than that," Maddon said. "I think he's capable."

Rays: Pitchers put foes on hit ration
• Tampa Bay pitchers held the Orioles to a total of 16 hits in three games -- and, in fact, have allowed hits in double figures only once in the last 15 games. The Angels piled up 17 on Apr. 29.

• Rays pitchers issued 18 walks in the three games against the Orioles -- but only two of the runners came around to score.

Indians: Tomlin won't work himself into trouble
• Tomlin has exceptional control -- he has issued only eight walks in 40 2/3 innings -- which has helped minimize the damage against him. Six of the seven homers he has allowed have come with the bases empty.

Worth noting
Every game on the Indians' six-game West Coast road trip was decided by three runs or less, with the last four all one-run affairs. Cleveland is 10-8 in close games (one- and two-run decisions).

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