Blue Jays-Rays Preview
After failing to keep pace in the race for home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, the Toronto Blue Jays have one more opportunity to possibly make that happen.
In order to do so, the visiting Blue Jays must beat the Tampa Bay Rays and get some help Sunday.
Toronto (93-68) led by two runs after six innings and held a one-run advantage with two outs in the ninth before Tim Beckham’s two-run single gave Tampa Bay (79-82) a 4-3 victory Saturday.
Losers in three of four since winning six in a row, the East champion Blue Jays trail Kansas City by a game in the race for the best record in the AL. Should Toronto win and the Royals lose at Minnesota on Sunday, the Blue Jays would earn home-field advantage because they own the head-to-head tiebreaker.
”We’ll go out and try and win our game,” Toronto manager John Gibbons said. ”Let everything fall into place.”
The loss overshadowed Edwin Encarnacion’s fourth consecutive game with a home run when he clubbed a two-run shot in the sixth. He helped the Blue Jays break a team record for most homers by three players – Josh Donaldson (41) and Jose Bautista (40) – in one season with 120.
”That’s what they do,” Gibbons said.
If Encarnacion can homer in a fifth straight contest for the first time Sunday, Toronto would become the fourth team in baseball history and first since Colorado in 1997 to have three players with at least 40.
Batting .444 with six RBIs in his last five games, Encarnacion is 4 for 12 with a homer against Matt Moore (2-4, 5.84 ERA).
Facing Toronto for the first time this season, Moore ends his abbreviated comeback season from Tommy John surgery by trying to build on a three-start stretch where he’s gone 1-0 with a 1.31 ERA. The left-hander allowed a run in seven innings while not factoring in the decision of Tuesday’s 4-2 win over Miami.
"It does feel good to roll out a few in a row,” said Moore, who went 1-4 with an 8.42 ERA over his first eight starts and had that stretch interrupted by a month’s stay in the minors since making his season debut July 2.
It appears Toronto is leaning on starting the struggling Drew Hutchison (13-5, 5.47) in this contest, but also could give Mark Buehrle (15-7, 3.82) the nod, or the ball at some point to pitch the two innings he needs for a 15th consecutive season of at least 200. Buehrle gave up four runs in 6 2-3 innings of a Friday’s 8-4 victory.
”We’ll see how Mark feels,” Gibbons said.
Hutchison has a 14.46 ERA while losing three straight starts, and yielded three runs and four hits in one inning before a lengthy rain delay ended his outing in Thursday’s 6-4 loss at Baltimore. The right-hander is 2-3 with a 9.76 ERA in 13 road starts this season but 2-0 with a 4.09 ERA overall against Tampa Bay in 2015.
Despite going 0 for 3 on Saturday, the Rays’ Kevin Kiermaier is batting .385 in seven home games against the Blue Jays this season. He’s 5 for 9 with two doubles against Hutchison.