Toronto Blue Jays at Tampa Bay Rays game preview
The Toronto Blue Jays will be facing some very good pitchers once the playoffs get underway.
They’ll get an early start on that Saturday night when they oppose Tampa Bay Rays ace Chris Archer.
With home-field advantage still undetermined, the AL East champion Blue Jays look to take a step closer to that and get the best of Archer for the second time in a week.
Having already clinched their first division title since 1993, Toronto’s focus this weekend will be on earning home-field advantage throughout the postseason. The Blue Jays (93-67) will open the division series Thursday at home and hope to start against the wild-card winner by finishing with the league’s best record.
They are tied with Kansas City in that race but own the tiebreaker because of a better head-to-head record.
Faced with a three-run deficit in Friday’s series opener, the Blue Jays did what they do best — pummel the opposition with offense.
They answered Tampa Bay’s four-run fifth with four of their own in the sixth, and Edwin Encarnacion and Russell Martin homered an inning later as Toronto won 8-4 to avoid its first three-game skid since early July.
Troy Tulowitzki had a pair of hits and a run scored in his first action since Sept. 12 after missing three weeks with a cracked scapula and bruised muscles in his upper back. Toronto improved to 31-8 with him in the lineup.
"It’s awesome," Tulowitzki said. "To be back out there on the field is always special."
He is expected to get Saturday off and then play in Sunday’s regular-season finale.
"He looked good to me," manager John Gibbons said.
The Blue Jays set a franchise record with their 48th victory since the All-Star break.
Marco Estrada (13-8, 3.15 ERA) aims to push that number to 49 in his final tune-up before the postseason.
Estrada, who didn’t even begin the season in the rotation, has likely secured a start in the playoffs after he was one of the team’s most consistent pitchers down the stretch. He is 6-2 with a 2.63 ERA and 0.92 WHIP in his last 12 starts, allowing three runs or fewer 11 times.
The right-hander was very good again Monday at Baltimore, yielding three runs and four hits over 7 1-3 innings before Toronto rallied for a 4-3 victory. He retired 18 of the next 19 after serving up a three-run homer in the second.
Estrada has dominated the Rays this season, tossing 21 scoreless innings in two starts and two relief appearances while allowing seven hits and one walk with 18 strikeouts.
Tampa Bay (78-82) will finish with a losing record for the second consecutive season after four straight years of at least 90 wins.
Archer (12-13, 3.26) needs a victory to avoid a losing record as he tries to erase the memory of a very disappointing birthday.
The right-hander is 0-3 with a 6.58 ERA in five starts since his last win Aug. 31. He has nowhere to go but up after he was roughed up for a career high-tying nine runs and 10 hits over 3 2/3 innings in a 10-8 loss at Toronto last Saturday on his 27th birthday.
"It wasn’t my day by any means," said Archer, who walked five for the second straight start.
Before Saturday’s performance, Archer had gone 3-1 with a 0.93 ERA in his first four starts this season against the Blue Jays.
He’s limited Encarnacion to 4 for 34 lifetime though three of those hits left the park.