The Tampa Bay Rays finished the second-best homestand in their history [url=http://www.jaguarscheapshop.com/cheap-authentic-dede-westbrook-jersey]Dede Westbrook Jersey[/url] , with a much easier path between now and the All-Star Game as they try to claw their way back into wild-card contention.

Tampa Bay (41-40) went 8-1 at Tropicana Field, finishing a grueling stretch of 16 games against the New York Yankees, Houston Astros and Washington Nationals and going 10-6 in those games to rise back above .500.

Now the Rays have a stretch of 16 straight games against teams with losing records, including a three-game series at the Miami Marlins (34-51) starting Monday.

The Rays have dominated with their patchwork pitching staff, allowing a total of seven runs in their last six games, with five wins and a 1-0 loss. They took three of four from Houston to close out the homestand and hope to continue the success to take some positive momentum into the All-Star break.

“The fact that we have been winning and everyone has been coming together at clutch moments has been great,” said outfielder Mallex Smith, who had a late solo home run in Sunday’s 3-2 win over Houston. “We’ve been jelling as a team. We’ve been feeding off one another. It seems like someone new coming through at the right time every day.”

Next for Tampa Bay is Nathan Eovaldi (2-3, 4.08 ERA), who played for the Marlins from 2012 to 2014 and will almost certainly fare better than his only career appearance against his former team. In June 2015, he played there with the Yankees and gave up nine hits and eight earned runs in less than an inning, leaving after two outs with a 108.00 ERA to show for it.

Eovaldi has shown promise since returning from Tommy John surgery — his last start against Washington lasted six innings and he gave up no runs, one and and two walks with nine strikeouts.

The Marlins will answer with Wei-Yin Chen, who knows the Rays from his days with the Baltimore Orioles. He has started 21 career games against Tampa Bay, more than any other opponent [url=http://www.jaguarscheapshop.com/cheap-authentic-taven-bryan-jersey]Taven Bryan Jersey[/url] , and posted a 5-6 record with a 3.72 ERA.

That’s considerably better than his overall numbers this year — he’s 2-5 with a 6.14 ERA, though his last start was solid. He limited Arizona to one run and five hits in six innings last week. Against Tampa Bay last year, he pitched well, holding the Rays to two runs and two hits in six innings.

The in-state rivals will meet again right after the All-Star break for three more games, but the extended run against lesser opponents is something the Rays must dominate if they want to get back into wild-card contention.

Even after winning eight of nine games, Tampa Bay is still 11 games behind Seattle for the second AL wild card. Still, being 42-41 after opening the season 1-8 isn’t bad, especially considering the injuries they’ve dealt with and the talent traded away since the end of last season.

Mike Mularkey is about to coach his first NFL postseason game as a head coach, and he isn’t reaching out to friends or former bosses for advice.

After all, he learned by watching the likes of Bill Cowher and Chuck Noll in Pittsburgh.

Cowher has sent Mularkey a few texts, which he appreciates; but the Titans coach is focused on the work that needs to be done for Saturday’s AFC wild-card game in Kansas City (10-6).

”I was around them,” Mularkey said Tuesday. ”I know them. I know how they operated. … I have learned a lot from them.”

Reaching the postseason as a head coach didn’t come easily for Mularkey. He spent his first two seasons as a head coach in Buffalo before leaving. He was given only one season in Jacksonville. And he came to Tennessee in 2014 as tight ends coach for Ken Whisenhunt before being given the job on an interim basis in November 2015.

Now Mularkey and general manager Jon Robinson have overseen a major turnaround for a franchise that was an NFL-worst 5-27 during the 2014 and 2015 seasons. After taking over as interim head coach, Mularkey led the Titans to two of their three wins as they wound up with the No. 1 draft pick overall.

The Titans have gone 9-7 in each of Mularkey’s two full seasons for their first back-to-back winning campaigns since 2007 and 2008. Mularkey also is the fifth head coach in franchise history to lead a team to the playoffs in either of his first two full seasons. Jack Pardee was the last in both 1990 and 1991, and he had Warren Moon at quarterback with the then-Houston Oilers.

Kansas City coach Andy Reid knows it’s not easy to win in the NFL, let alone in consecutive seasons.

”They’ve done a great job [url=http://www.jaguarscheapshop.com/cheap-authentic-blake-bortles-jersey]Blake Bortles Jersey[/url] ,” Reid said in a conference call with Tennessee reporters. ”I’ve got a lot of respect for the head coach and his staff. They’ve got a great staff there.”

One thing Mularkey took from his time with Cowher in Pittsburgh is an offense that’s very similar to what the Steelers ran. Lots of motion and different looks trying to catch a defense making a mistake. Toughness is another characteristic Mularkey has worked to instill.

”You better strap it on and be ready to play,” Reid said.

The day after being named interim head coach, Mularkey checked some players’ notes to ensure the Titans were paying attention in meetings. He also got the Titans playing games ranging from spelling bees to offseason workouts – and tracking their success. It was all done to drive home the message that winning matters.

Now it’s time for Mularkey’s biggest game yet. Asked if he’s taken a moment to personally appreciate this opportunity, Mularkey joked he is shaking in his boots. Then he turned serious, saying he knows the Titans take cues from him.

”It’s a great experience,” Mularkey said. ”It’s just another way we’ve got to win, all these games have been that way. I don’t see it in any other way. Obviously, you lose you go home, you win, you continue. I’m going to be as locked in as I’ve been each one of these games.”

That approach is something quarterback Marcus Mariota appreciates.

”He’s continued to keep this team together and just focusing on our goal,” Mariota said. ”That’s all you can really do.”

Notes: RB DeMarco Murray (right knee) did not practice, and Mularkey said he’s not going to rule him out. CB Brice McCain (hamstring) was limited. TE Jonnu Smith and CB Kalan Reed both are in the concussion protocol and practiced fully. Mularkey said they will practice Wednesday and then be tested.

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