MINNEAPOLIS — The Toronto Blue Jays never imagined they would be at the bottom of the American League East standings in September. Toronto is left to spoil the playoff hopes of others and finish off the season strong going into next year.
On Saturday against the Minnesota Twins, that task falls to Marco Estrada (8-8, 4.96 ERA), who face Twins rookie left-hander Adalberto Mejia (4-5, 4.47).
“You always want to finish strong,” Toronto’s J.A. Happ said after pitching 6 1/3 steady innings in Friday’s 4-3 win. “Right now, like I said, I feel good out there. Just want to finish strong. We’re still competing. Regardless of what the standings say, we still want to win ballgames.”
The two teams have split the first two games of the four-game series as Minnesota won in extra innings on Thursday on a Byron Buxton home run.
Estrada’s ERA had stretched above 5.00 after struggling in the middle of the season. But he has allowed just two runs over his last two starts and 12 innings.
The veteran right-hander is coming off a win against the Baltimore Orioles after giving up two runs in five innings. He pitched seven scoreless innings in the start prior. The strong finish becomes even more important as Estrada faces free agency at the end of the season.
“It’s always how you finish, right?” Estrada said after his last outing. “If I can show I’m back to my normal self, what I’ve done for the last few years for these guys, maybe they’ll want me back, and I’m hoping to come back.”
Estrada, who has a career-high 166 strikeouts this season, gave up three runs in six innings in beating Minnesota on Aug. 26 in his only start against the Twins this season. In his career, Estrada is 2-2 with a 4.26 ERA in nine career games, including seven starts, against the Twins.
Minnesota had its three-game winning streak snapped on Friday but still hold the second wild-card spot in the American League by two games. The Twins have made a dramatic push in the standings since Aug. 2, but Mejia has mostly been a spectator in that time.
Mejia has been out since Aug. 9 with a left arm brachialis strain. He made two rehab starts at Triple-A and was 1-0 with a 1.13 ERA.
“With Mejia, he has done some good things for us this year,” manager Paul Molitor told the Star Tribune after announcing Mejia would rejoin the rotation. “His rehab has been efficient. He’s proven that he is ready to come back, and hopefully help us.”
Mejia, who has never faced Toronto, has had a mixed season. He started the season in the rotation but was sent back to Triple-A after three starts. He returned in late May and became one of the team’s most consistent starters as it searched for help behind All-Star Ervin Santana.
In his most recent start, on Aug. 8 against Milwaukee, he gave up seven hits and three runs in three innings.
Mejia allowed eight earned runs in one outing in June, but has a 3.52 ERA and 38 strikeouts in 46 innings over his last nine starts. A steady performance from Mejia could solidify the rotation that has found depth behind Santana and Jose Berrios with Bartolo Colon and Kyle Gibson improving.