Toronto Blue Jays at Tampa Bay Rays series primer

Tampa Bay Rays right fielder Kevin Kiermaier will need to have a strong month to help his team make it back to .500.

One team lives on the fringes of the American League wild-card race, and the other is sliding in that direction.

One has struggled throughout most of the year, and the other became a second-half disappointment.

Unless either turns hot fast — and others ahead stumble — both will be absent come October.

September is a time for scoreboard watching, and technically, both the Toronto Blue Jays and Tampa Bay Rays remain alive in the race for the AL’s second wild-card spot. The Blue Jays trail the Detroit Tigers by 5 1/2 games and the Rays are 8 1/2 games back.

Each result is amplified in this all-important month. The bad news: Both teams have struggled to maintain momentum.

The Blue Jays arrive at Tropicana Field for the final time this season after an AL East-worst 9-17 record in August. The Rays were 13-16 for the month, but they are just 4-6 in their last 10 games.

"We’ve got to channel our inner-Rockies right now," Rays manager Joe Maddon said Sunday, referencing the 2007 Colorado Rockies team that went on a 21-1 tear to reach the World Series.

The optimism is understood, and it’s even necessary this time of year. This is no time for white flags for all who call themselves contenders.

More Rays News

Still, the Rays must revert to the group that rallied to reach .500 on Aug. 15 with a hot late June and July. Time is running short to repeat the feat.

Here’s a closer look at the upcoming Rays-Blue Jays series …

SCHEDULE AND PROBABLE PITCHERS

Sept. 2 (Sun Sports — pregame coverage begins at 6:30 p.m.) R.A. Dickey (10-12, 4.00 ERA) vs. Jeremy Hellickson (1-2, 2.98 ERA)

Sept. 3 (Sun Sports — pregame coverage begins at 6:30 p.m.) Marcus Stroman (8-5, 3.88 ERA) vs. Chris Archer (8-7, 3.40 ERA)

Sept. 4 (No TV — first pitch is 7:10 p.m.) Mark Buehrle (11-9, 3.50 ERA) vs. Jake Odorizzi (10-11, 4.03 ERA)

WHO’S HOT

Dioner Navarro (Blue Jays): He hit .368 (7 for 19) with two RBI in six games from Aug. 25-31. He had at least one hit in each contest from Aug. 26-31, the highlight being a 3-for-4 day in a loss to the New York Yankees on Aug. 29. He has hit .278 with 10 home runs and 57 RBI this season.

Evan Longoria (Rays): He hit .346 (9 for 26) with one home run and six RBI in seven games from Aug. 26-Sept. 1. He had two multi-hit contests in the span, the highlight being a 3-for-4 day in a victory over the Baltimore Orioles on Aug. 27. He has hit .254 with 17 home runs and 78 RBI this season.

WHO’S NOT

Jose Reyes (Blue Jays): He hit .148 (4 for 27) with three strikeouts in six games from Aug. 25-31. He was held hitless in three contests in the span. He has hit .284 with eight home runs and 41 RBI this season.

Yunel Escobar (Rays): He hit .136 (3 for 22) with two strikeouts in six games from Aug. 26-Sept. 1. He was held hitless in four contests in the span. He has hit .247 with four home runs and 31 RBI this season.

STORYLINES

1: Hit allowed by right-hander Jake Odorizzi in the Rays’ 7-0 victory over the Boston Red Sox on Saturday at Tropicana Field. He struck out seven and walked three in seven innings. He improved to 10-11 with a 4.03 ERA and 163 strikeouts this season.

16: Times the Rays have been shut out this season, the latest a 3-0 loss to the Red Sox on Sunday at Tropicana Field. Tampa Bay mustered just three hits against right-hander Clay Buchholz, who struck out six in a complete game.

3.31: ERA for left-hander Drew Smyly. He allowed two runs, three hits and struck out seven in 5 2/3 innings in a no-decision during the Rays’ 4-3 victory in 10 innings over the Red Sox on Monday at Tropicana Field.

QUOTE BOARD

"Yeah, we’ve been good. That’s minus Matt Moore. We’ve switched gears, David (Price) vs. Drew (Smyly). Cobber (Alex Cobb) had been out for a long period of time. We’re talking some young pitchers too, inexperienced pitchers. … The combination of 18 shutouts, a very youthful staff — now David was a part of that number too, but it’s pretty interesting, and it bodes well for the future." — Maddon, after the Rays’ victory Saturday. They set a single-season franchise record with their 18th shutout this season.

"He had his ‘A’ game going today and when he’s on like that, it’s tough to scratch across runs." — Right-hander Alex Cobb, after the Rays’ loss Sunday, when speaking about Buchholz. Buchholz threw 98 pitches, 69 for strikes.

"A nice finish. I was excited about the opportunity." — Outfielder Matt Joyce, after his game-deciding RBI single in the bottom of the 10th inning in the Rays’ victory Monday. Tampa Bay earned a split of the four-game series in the final meeting between the AL East rivals at Tropicana Field this season.

LOOKING AHEAD

Sept. 5-7 — Orioles at Rays

You can follow Andrew Astleford on Twitter @aastleford or email him at aastleford@gmail.com.