Blue Jays-Yankees preview
NEW YORK -- The Toronto Blue Jays are squandering opportunities in their series at Yankee Stadium.
Every time the Blue Jays miss a chance to add runs, the New York Yankees exhale.
After two dramatic games, the American League East rivals conclude their three-game series Wednesday night at Yankee Stadium, when New York will be looking for complete a sweep.
The Blue Jays (77-61) have dropped four of five and are tied with the Boston Red Sox for first place in the division. The Blue Jays have held at least a share of the lead every day since Aug. 16, and this is the fifth time they have been tied.
The Yankees (72-65) have won three straight and nine of 13 to stay 3 1/2 games behind the Baltimore Orioles for the second AL wild card. New York also is within 4 1/2 games of the division lead -- its smallest deficit since April 28.
"We have been playing good baseball," Yankees left fielder Brett Gardner said. "I'm sure teams in front of us have taken notice."
This series has featured two close games with late-inning dramatics.
On Monday, Toronto cut a four-run deficit in half on Edwin Encarnacion's bases-loaded, seventh-inning single. However, Russell Martin lined out to end the inning, and the Yankees held on to win 5-3.
On Tuesday, Kevin Pilar's two-run double gave the Jays a short-lived, 4-3 lead in the top of the eighth. The Yankees responded with three runs in the bottom half of the inning, and Chase Headley's two-run homer gave New York a 7-4 lead.
After Toronto scored twice in the ninth off Dellin Betances to climb within 7-6, and the bases were loaded when Blake Parker replaced the New York closer with two outs. Pillar struck out Justin Smoak was robbed of a go-ahead extra-base hit by Gardner's leaping catch in front of the left field wall.
"A lot of lost opportunities along the way, no doubt about that," Toronto manager John Gibbons said.
Betances is unlikely to be available Wednesday after pitching for the third consecutive game. Normally he would have been unavailable Tuesday, but September circumstances are different, especially in the situation the Yankees are in.
As for the starting-pitching matchup for the series finale, Toronto right-hander Marcus Stroman (9-6, 4.58 ERA) gets the call, while the Yankees may employ Bryan Mitchell. Before Tuesday's game, the Yankees were leaning toward using the 25-year-old right-hander, but after the game, their starting pitcher was listed as "TBA."
Stroman will pitch nearly a year after returning from an ACL injury and throwing five innings in Toronto's 10-7 victory Sept. 12, 2015, at New York. He allowed two runs and three hits in eight innings April 14 against the Yankees in Toronto.
Stroman has pitched eight innings five times this season but has not done so since July 20 in Arizona. He has a 3.65 ERA in his past seven starts, and he allowed four runs and five hits in six innings Friday during an 8-3 loss at Tampa Bay.
"My stuff feels as sharp as it's been all year," Stroman said. "It's just frustrating not getting the results I want to get."
Whoever starts for the Yankees will be taking the place of Chad Green, who is out for the season with an elbow injury.
Mitchell would be making his season debut after missing most of the year due to a toe injury sustained in the final week of spring training.
Mitchell made six rehab starts, including two with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes Barre. In two starts for the Yankees' top farm club, he threw a total of nine innings and allowed two runs (one earned) while striking out 14. He threw 91 pitches on Friday.
"It's crazy," Mitchell said. "It feels weird to be coming back at this point, but it's exciting. I'm ready, I'm excited."
So are the Yankees, who are still in a playoff race a month after deciding to rebuild and jettison veterans following four months of maddening inconsistency following a 9-17 start.
"Bottom line is that we hadn't played up to our capability," general manager Brian Cashman said. "When you don't do that and underperform, it can bite you in the (rear), so we had to dig ourselves out of a deep hole, but in the last month, we've given ourselves a chance. Hopefully we can take advantage of it. Our guys are having fun competing on a daily basis, and the hope is that we can keep that up."