Blue Jays-Rays Preview

As Mark Buehrle prepares for his first postseason since 2008, the question remains whether he’ll be a part of it.

The struggling veteran makes what could conceivably be his final career start as the Blue Jays continue their quest for home-field advantage throughout the playoffs Friday night against the host Tampa Bay Rays.

One player who will certainly be part of Toronto’s playoff roster is Troy Tulowitzki, who surprisingly is returning to the lineup for this game after being sidelined since Sept. 12 with a cracked scapula and bruised muscles. The All-Star shortstop played in a simulated game earlier in the day, after which the Blue Jays said he would bat seventh against the Rays.

Despite Tulowitzki hitting .232 since being acquired from Colorado on July 28, Toronto is 30-8 with him in the starting lineup.

The Blue Jays haven’t been so successful lately when Buehrle takes the mound.

With one win and a 5.70 ERA over his last seven starts, Buehrle (14-7, 3.76 ERA) appears the odd man out in a playoff rotation likely consisting of David Price, Marcus Stroman, R.A. Dickey and Marco Estrada. The 36-year-old will be a free agent at season’s end, leading to speculation that he is considering retirement.

"Still don’t know what’s gonna happen," Buehrle told MLB’s official website after allowing four runs in six innings in Sunday’s 5-4 comeback win over Tampa Bay. "I’ll go home and think about it, and if it is my last start here, that’s something maybe to be sentimental about on my couch in the offseason."

Buehrle enters this start 8 2-3 innings shy of reaching 200 for a 15th consecutive season, a feat only Hall of Famers Warren Spahn, Don Sutton and Gaylord Perry have previously accomplished.

He hasn’t pitched beyond six innings during his current rough stretch, however, and is 0-2 with a 6.75 ERA in five road starts since yielding one run over seven innings in a 7-1 victory at Oakland on July 21.

Buehrle is 1-1 with a 6.11 ERA in three season starts against Tampa Bay (78-81), surrendering a season-high 13 hits and five runs of a 5-1 loss at Tropicana Field on April 26.

Toronto (92-67) begins this three-game set off two straight losses in Baltimore, during which manager John Gibbons rested his regulars upon clinching the AL East with a 15-2 rout of the Orioles in Wednesday’s doubleheader opener. The decision helped Kansas City catch the Blue Jays for the league’s top record, though Toronto owns the tiebreaker on a 4-3 season series edge.

”My job is to take care of these guys," Gibbons said. "Yes, we’d love to win it but I’ve got to do what’s best for these guys – not what some bozo out there in fantasy land thinks.”

Price will not pitch at all this weekend to prepare for Thursday’s Game 1 of the division series, instead throwing in Friday’s simulated game. He struck out Tulowitzki on a called third strike and got a fly ball to center.

The Rays, one loss away from their first back-to-back sub-.500 seasons since 2006 and ’07, started this homestand with a three-game sweep of Miami capped by Thursday’s 4-1 win. Grady Sizemore went 2 for 4 with an RBI single and is batting .476 with 10 RBIs during a seven-game hitting streak.

Evan Longoria homered with two RBIs and is 4 for 8 off Buehrle this season, while rookie Mikie Mahtook has two homers in three at-bats against him.

Erasmo Ramirez (11-6, 3.65) looks to continue his strong finish to a solid campaign in his first start since Sept. 24, when he held Boston to two runs in seven innings of a 4-2 win. The right-hander has allowed two runs or less while working at least seven innings in three consecutive outings.

Ramirez, 11-1 with a 2.87 ERA in 18 starts with two or more runs of support, is 0-1 with a 7.50 ERA in three 2015 meetings with Toronto.

Tampa Bay could have second baseman Logan Forsythe back in the lineup after missing two straight games with a bruised right foot.