Blue Jays try to chase down playoff spot against Rays

MLB

The Toronto Blue Jays wrap up the first portion of their seven-game road trip Wednesday with a matinee affair against the American League East-leading Tampa Bay Rays in St. Petersburg, Fla.

The Blue Jays (85-66) have split the first two games against the Rays (93-59) in the race for one of the American League’s two wild cards.

Toronto’s last month of play has produced a slew of breathtaking swings by an intimidating lineup.

The club tops the majors in three brawny stats that revolve around the long ball — home runs (241), slugging percentage (.464) and OPS (.795).

MVP and Triple Crown candidate Vladimir Guerrero Jr. leads the Canadian club with 46 home runs while Marcus Semien has 41, but it’s the 20-something group that follows that pair that has piled up the numbers.

In all, six Blue Jays have hit at least 20 homers. That group includes Teoscar Hernandez (29), Bo Bichette (26), Randal Grichuk (22) and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. (21).

Prized free-agent acquisition George Springer surely would have reached the threshold as well — he has 17 blasts — but he has been nicked up, playing in just 67 of Toronto’s 151 games.

Over a crazy two days in Baltimore on Sept. 11 and 12, the Blue Jays basically held batting practice against the hapless Orioles by scoring 44 runs in three games.

In a four-inning span from Saturday’s top of the seventh — a team-record 11-run frame in the second game of a doubleheader — and the first three of Sunday’s nine-inning 22-7 demolition, Toronto sent 27 runs across the plate.

The Blue Jays, who led 16-4 after batting in three frames, set a major league record with the 27 markers, breaking the previous high of 25 set by the Texas Rangers in 2007.

“I knew in August that we’d get hot. We’ve got way too many good hitters,” said manager Charlie Montoyo after watching a club-record 47 runs come home in the four-game stretch in Baltimore.

On the Rays’ side, an important issue at hand will play out Wednesday on a diamond in North Carolina.

Wander Franco — Tampa Bay’s dynamic rookie shortstop — will begin a two-day rehab stint with the Triple-A Durham Bulls. The hope is to have him back in the lineup Friday when the Rays host the Miami Marlins over the weekend.

Franco, 20, was placed on the injured list Sept. 11 with right hamstring tightness after injuring it the day before in Detroit, but not before extending his on-base streak to 39 games.

That stretch is the second-longest in major league history by a player under 21. Hall of Famer Frank Robinson set the mark of 43 games in 1956 with Cincinnati.

Surprisingly on Tuesday, the Rays brought out of the bullpen Michael Wacha — Wednesday’s slated starter — in the seventh inning of a one-run game that the Rays eventually lost 4-2.

That move put the Rays, who have Thursday off, at a crossroads with their pitching.

“We’ve got some things to discuss with the rotation — we’ve got to get through tomorrow first and into the off day,” said manager Kevin Cash, who did not announce Wednesday’s starter.

Toronto right-hander Ross Stripling (5-6, 4.50 ERA) is expected to handle Toronto’s bulk innings Wednesday, despite right-hander Julian Merryweather (0-1, 4.91) named as the starter.

In six career appearances against Tampa Bay — two starts — Stripling is 0-1 with a 2.01 ERA.

Tampa Bay has listed righty Luis Patino (4-3, 4.73) as Wednesday’s starting pitcher. He is 0-1 with a 5.63 ERA in a pair of career starts against Toronto.

–Field Level Media

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