Blue Jays-Rays Preview
The Toronto Blue Jays began last month near the top of the AL East standings and had the most home runs of any club in baseball.
That power surge faded along with their place among postseason contenders throughout August, but they're hoping how they finished the month was the start of a turnaround.
Jose Bautista can match a franchise record by homering in a sixth straight contest as Toronto visits the Tampa Bay Rays in the opener of a three-game set Tuesday night.
The Blue Jays (69-67) sat 1 1/2 games behind Baltimore in the division entering play Aug. 1, but a 9-17 record during the month has dropped them 10 games back of the Orioles.
Toronto scored three runs or fewer 15 times in August and its 18 homers were tied for the fourth-fewest in the league. It hit three of those long balls Sunday, as Bautista, Melky Cabrera and Edwin Encarnacion went deep in a 4-3 win over the New York Yankees.
Bautista is on the verge of matching Jose Cruz Jr.'s team mark of homering in six straight in 2001.
"That's so hard to do what he's doing," manager John Gibbons said. "He is in a nice little groove. I think he is waiting his at-bats out for a pitch to hit."
The Blue Jays finished the month winning three of four, and they'll look to get September off to a solid start as they send R.A. Dickey to the mound.
Dickey (10-12, 4.00 ERA) allowed three runs - one earned - in the first inning against Boston last Tuesday, but he pitched five shutout innings the rest of the way in Toronto's 11-7, 11-inning loss.
It marked another point of inconsistency for the right-hander, who is 3-3 with a 4.44 ERA over his last eight starts. He's allowed at least four runs in half of those outings while mixing in some solid performances.
Dickey gave up six runs and walked a career high-tying six in a 9-3 road loss to Tampa Bay on March 31, then allowed two runs over six innings of a 3-0 loss to the Rays back at Tropicana Field on July 13.
The knuckleballer is 1-3 with a 5.17 ERA in his last five starts against Tampa Bay (67-71), which sends Jeremy Hellickson to the hill.
Hellickson (1-2, 2.98) went 1-1 with a 2.03 ERA in his first five starts after returning from right elbow surgery July 8, but he's 0-1 with a 4.60 ERA over his last three. He gave up four runs in 4 1-3 innings of Tampa's 5-4 loss to Baltimore on Thursday.
The right-hander had a solid outing against Toronto his previous time out, though, giving up two runs and three hits while striking out eight in 6 1-3 innings of the Rays' 5-4, 10-inning loss Aug. 23.
Hellickson is 5-3 with a 3.06 ERA in 13 career starts against the Blue Jays, who have won four of the last five meetings with the Rays.
Tampa is coming off a four-game split with Boston after winning 4-3 in 10 innings Monday. Wil Myers went 3 for 4 with an RBI before Matt Joyce drove in pinch-runner Sean Rodriquez with a walkoff single.
''A nice finish,'' said Joyce, who had been 0 for 4 with two strikeouts. ''I was excited about the opportunity.''
Toronto acquired John Mayberry Jr. from Philadelphia on Sunday in exchange for a minor leaguer. He's been on the disabled list since July 21 with inflammation in his left wrist, but he'll likely be activated before this contest.