Blue Jays-Rays Preview
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- The American League East standings still show the Toronto Blue Jays in first place and the Tampa Bay Rays in last, but the Rays have found a way to solve their division rivals again this season, as seen in Saturday's 7-5 win at Tropicana Field.
The Rays enter Sunday's series finale hoping for their second three-game sweep of the Jays this season -- they're 9-6 against Toronto and with one more win, can clinch the season series for the eighth time in nine years.
Tampa Bay has outhomered the Jays 24-20 in their meetings this season, outscoring them by an 80-60 margin, a confounding problem for Toronto manager John Gibbons.
"We're not getting a lot of hits, that's for sure," he said after his team was held to three singles entering the ninth inning Saturday. "We didn't have too many last night and we didn't get too many tonight. You're not going to score many runs if you're not getting hits."
Absent that, the Jays will try to win with lefty J.A. Happ, who's been dominant this season with a 17-4 record and a 3.23 ERA.
The Jays lost their first three Happ starts against the Rays, including a May 16 outing in which he lasted only two innings and gave up eight earned runs. He bounced back nicely on Aug. 10, throwing six shutout innings of four-hit ball in a 7-0 Jays win in Toronto. For his career, Happ is 3-3 with a 4.87 ERA against the Rays.
Rays starter Chris Archer has fared well against the Jays in his career, with a 6-4 record and 3.25 ERA in 18 starts, including a 1-1 record and 3.18 ERA this season. He's given up two earned runs or less in his last four outings against Toronto, going back to last season.
The Rays' recent spark has come from their bats, which came alive again in a five-run sixth inning where they struck for six hits Saturday night.
"We had one big inning that we put it together," Rays manager Kevin Cash said. "We have not had much success against Marco Estrada ... they're so dangerous and they wear down pitchers."
Tampa Bay got its biggest and smallest hits of the night from Kevin Kiermaier, who loaded the bases in the sixth with a well-placed bunt and enough speed to pressure Estrada to throw wide. He would score in that inning, and up 5-1 in the seventh, came through with a two-run home run that would eventually provide the winning margin.
Up six runs in the ninth, the Rays had another wobbly night from their bullpen -- Enny Romero faced six batters and four of them scored, with three walks that forced the Rays to use closer Alex Colome in a save situation, the game ending with the tying run on base.
"Ideally you're not going into that inning thinking you have to get your closer up," Cash said. "Enny just had a rough patch. They got the hits they needed, found a couple holes."
For Toronto to avoid a sweep Sunday, they'll need to find those hits much earlier than the ninth inning.