BLUE JAYS (55-86) AT RAYS (83-59)
7:10 p.m. ET; FS-SUN, MLBN, SN, MLB.TV
Seven wins in the past eight games have vaulted the Tampa Bay Rays (-1.5) to the top of the American League wild-card standings. However, their margin for error remains minuscule.
The Rays can tighten their grip on a playoff position Friday night, when they host the Toronto Blue Jays (+1.5) in the second game of a four-game series. Left-handed two-way rookie Brendan McKay (2-3, 5.55 ERA) is scheduled to take the mound for Tampa Bay against Toronto right-hander Clay Buchholz (1-3, 5.45 ERA).
The Rays won the series opener 6-4 Thursday night as Austin Meadows hit a tiebreaking homer in the seventh inning and added an RBI double in the eighth.
The Rays, who were a game out of the second wild card on the morning of Aug. 30, are a half-game ahead of the Oakland Athletics (-1.5) in the race for home field in the one-game playoff, scheduled for Oct. 2. The Cleveland Indians (+1.5) are a game behind the A’s.
“Teams have been playing us pretty tough lately,” Meadows said after the Thursday game. “The pitching has been really good. We just continue to grind and continue to get out there and win games, because that’s the important thing right now.”
While the Rays won the grind Thursday night, the most impressive performance of the evening likely belonged to Blue Jays rookie shortstop Bo Bichette, who hit two homers and finished with three RBIs. Bichette opened the game by homering off Tampa Bay starter Austin Pruitt to cap a 13-pitch at-bat in which Bichette fouled off seven straight pitches and nine overall before going deep.
Bichette, the son of former Colorado Rockies (+1.5) star Dante Bichette, is now batting .329 with 10 homers and 17 RBIs in 34 games.
“I keep waiting for him to struggle a little bit because he’s only human, and he keeps doing what he’s doing,” first-year Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo said postgame. “It’s been fun to watch.”
McKay will be making his ninth career start and his 11th appearance overall. It will be his first pitching stint in the bigs since Aug. 19, when he took the loss against the Seattle Mariners after allowing seven runs (three earned) over two innings as the Rays fell 9-3.
McKay closed out August on the minor league injured list due to left shoulder fatigue. He is also 0-for-5 in three games as a batter — one game as the starting pitcher at the San Diego on Aug. 13, one game as a starting designated hitter and one game when he entered as a pinch runner and stayed in as a DH.
Buchholz earned his first win of the season in his most recent appearance, when he gave up two runs over 5 2/3 innings as the Blue Jays beat the Houston Astros 6-4 on Aug. 31.
McKay lost his only start against the Blue Jays on Aug. 7, when he allowed three runs over five-plus innings as the Rays were handed a 4-3 defeat. Buchholz is 9-8 with a 2.62 ERA in 24 career games (24 starts) against Tampa Bay.
Toronto has lost four games in a row and six of the past seven.
–Field Level Media