Blue Jays-Rays Preview

The Tampa Bay Rays have taken another huge step toward catching

the AL wild-card leaders.

With a chance to move into a tie for the league’s final playoff

spot Sunday, the Rays conclude a three-game set with the visiting

Toronto Blue Jays.

Ben Zobrist and Johnny Damon both went deep as Tampa Bay (87-71)

rallied from an early two-run deficit to defeat Toronto 6-2 on

Saturday. The Rays’ bullpen threw eight scoreless innings – a team

record for a single game – and manager Joe Maddon’s club took

advantage of a Boston loss earlier in the day to move within 1 1/2

games of the fading Red Sox for the wild-card lead.

Boston, which has dropped six of seven, closes a three-game road

series against the New York Yankees with a doubleheader Sunday.

Tampa Bay could move into a tie with Boston with a victory and a

Yankees sweep.

“I feel real good about our chances, and if we can somehow get

to the playoffs with our pitching staff and our defense, we have a

nice shot at winning,” Damon said. “We can’t control what happens

in the New York-Boston series … We have to worry about what we

can control, and hopefully this is a big pick-me-up.”

In order to continue their push, the Rays will likely need to

get a better effort out of Wade Davis (10-10, 4.55 ERA), who has

been hit hard over his last two starts.

After giving up four runs in 6 1-3 innings of a 6-2 defeat at

Baltimore on Sept. 14, he allowed five runs and eight hits in 4 2-3

innings of Tuesday’s 5-0 loss at Yankee Stadium.

Davis also struggled during his most recent outing against the

Blue Jays, surrendering six runs and nine hits in 4 1-3 innings of

a 7-3 road loss Aug. 29.

Getting back to Tropicana Field could make all the difference.

The right-hander is 3-1 with a 2.76 ERA in his last eight home

starts, seven of them Tampa Bay victories.

Davis is also 1-0 with a 2.95 ERA in his last three home starts

against the Blue Jays (80-78).

Toronto slugger Jose Bautista, who hit his MLB-leading 43rd

homer Saturday, is 2 for 17 with one home run lifetime against

Davis. Edwin Encarnacion has also struggled, going 1 for 12.

The Blue Jays will give the ball to Brett Cecil (4-10, 4.56),

who is 0-6 over his last nine outings.

The left-hander missed his scheduled start Sept. 16 after

slicing open his left index finger while cleaning a blender. He

didn’t seem to benefit from the resulting 11-day layoff, yielding

four runs and six hits over a season-low three innings in Tuesday’s

10-6 loss to Los Angeles.

Cecil, 4-2 despite a shaky 4.73 ERA in eight career starts

versus Tampa Bay, surely isn’t looking forward to facing Evan

Longoria, who is 10 for 20 with a homer lifetime against him. In

contrast, B.J. Upton is 3 for 20 off Cecil.