(Photo credit: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports)
The Toronto Blue Jays can clinch a wild-card spot and win their three-game series against the visiting Tampa Bay Rays on Saturday afternoon.
An 11-4 victory over the Rays on Friday night in the series opener moved the Blue Jays to the brink of a postseason berth. One more win would do it, as would a loss by the Seattle Mariners.
The Blue Jays (89-71), who won two of three from the Rays last weekend in St. Petersburg, Fla., lead the season series with Tampa Bay 6-5.
The Rays (97-63) have already secured the first wild-card spot, and they entered the series in preparation mode. They will open a best-of-three wild-card series at home on Tuesday, taking on the second wild-card team. Right now, that would be the Blue Jays.
A priority for the Rays was making sure their veteran players and pitchers are rested and ready for next week.
Rays team MVP Yandy Diaz returned to action on Friday and hit a two-run home run while going 2-for-2 with a walk. He left the Sunday game due to right hamstring tightness and hadn't played since.
"I feel good because I didn't really feel too much of the pain," Diaz said through a translator.
Rays manager Kevin Cash said Diaz likely would sit out Saturday and play again Sunday.
"He looks really healthy, especially with a bat in his hand," Cash said.
Randy Arozarena played his second game since returning from right quadriceps tightness that forced him out of the game on Sept. 22. He went 0-for-1 with two walks and was hit by a pitch.
The Rays also want to limit the looks Toronto will have at some of their pitchers. They used five pitchers on Friday, with starter Aaron Civale limited to nine hitters.
"You want to be respectful of the situation, but we are going to prioritize our guys, making sure that they are as fresh and ready to go as much as possible," Cash said before the series opener. "That doesn't change the way we play the game. We'll play the game the right way. And we're going to try to make decisions to win the game within the game. But rest will be a focal point for the three days."
The Rays have not announced their playoff rotation, but it appears set up to open with Tyler Glasnow, followed by Zach Eflin and Civale.
The Blue Jays are scheduled to start left-hander Hyun Jin Ryu (3-3, 3.31 ERA) on Saturday. They originally had Ryu going on Friday but went with left-hander Yusei Kikuchi instead.
In six career games against Tampa Bay, Ryu has no wins or losses and a 3.72 ERA in 29 innings. The Rays pounded him on Sept. 23, when he allowed five runs on seven hits in 4 1/3 innings.
The Rays are scheduled to open with right-handed reliever Shawn Armstrong (1-0, 1.41 ERA). In 18 career relief outings against Toronto, he is 0-0 with an 8.31 ERA. The Blue Jays got to him for two runs on four hits in just one-third of an inning on Sept. 23.
On Friday, Toronto had 16 hits against the five Rays pitchers. Bo Bichette went 4-for-5 with three runs and an RBI. Alejandro Kirk had a solo home run and a two-run single, and Matt Chapman and Brandon Belt added solo homers.
"It feels great when everybody is hitting," Kirk said through a translator. "It's a good feeling. Hopefully, we can carry on for the next few days."
Blue Jays manager John Schneider said, "This is what we can do. These guys are hitting their stride a little bit. The power is coming around and at the right time."
--Field Level Media