Blue Jays, Orioles still battling for wild-card position
TORONTO -- Toronto's bullpen is beginning to sag as the Blue Jays try to clinch the first American League wild-card spot.
It could not come at a worse time but it has given the Baltimore Orioles some hope.
The Orioles scored three times in the final two innings against the Blue Jays bullpen Wednesday to earn a 3-2 victory that moved them to within one game of Toronto for the first wild card.
The teams will play the rubber match of the three-game series Thursday at Rogers Centre and it could be a pivotal game to determine home-field advantage in the wild-card game.
Each team enters Thursday with four games remaining in the regular season.
Ubaldo Jimenez (7-12, 5.71 ERA) will start for the Orioles and Marcus Stroman (9-9, 4.34 ERA) will start for the Blue Jays.
The Blue Jays appeared poised to open a three-game lead on Wednesday as they held a 2-0 advantage after seven innings.
Then the bullpen sprung leaks.
Jason Grilli gave up a solo homer to Mark Trumbo in the eighth and pinch hitter Hyun Soo Kim hit a two-run homer against closer Roberto Osuna in the ninth.
"It was big," said Orioles starter Chris Tillman, who did not factor in the decision. "I think that could push a team a long way in wins. It was a big team win and I think everyone played a part in it."
"This is a very tough place to play," Trumbo said. "The fans, they're always giving it to you and they're very passionate. Sometimes it's tough to get something going, but a moment like that, that was big for us."
The Blue Jays suffered a blow this week when Joaquin Benoit suffered a torn calf muscle as he ran from the bullpen to participate in the melee with the New York Yankees on Monday. The Blue Jays would have to play deep into October before Benoit, who has been a key performer in the seventh inning, could return.
It is going to put pressure on the rest of the bullpen and the early results are not encouraging.
Grilli, who has been the eighth-inning reliever, has a 9.15 ERA in 11 September outings. He has allowed five runs in his past two outings, a total of one inning.
Osuna has an 8.10 ERA over his past six outings. He is 1-1 with two saves and two blown saves.
"I feel good. I'm not worried at all," Osuna said. "We're going to be fine. We're playing against the best teams in the major leagues in our division and stuff like today it happens sometimes. But I'm not worried at all and I think we're going to be in a good position for the next four games."
Brett Cecil might become a key performer in the remaining games and he pitched a solid inning Wednesday.
Stroman will be looking for his first win since Aug. 14 Thursday.
In seven starts since his last win, he is 0-4 with a 3.32 ERA and the team is 5-2. He held the Yankees to one hit, three walks and no runs over seven innings Saturday but did not factor into the decision in the game won on Jose Bautista's three-run homer in the eighth. Stroman is 1-1 with a 7.88 ERA in three starts this season against the Orioles. In six career games, including five starts, against Baltimore, he is 2-2 with a 5.29 ERA.
Jimenez will be trying for his third win in September, and his third win since the All-Star break, on Thursday. He is 2-3 with one save and a 3.17 ERA in 11 games, including seven starts, since the All-Star break. He is 2-1 with a 2.88 ERA in four starts in September. In four game (three starts) against the Blue Jays this season, he is 0-1 with a 9.42 ERA. He is 6-5 with a 4.84 ERA in 17 career games, including 15 starts, against Toronto.