(Photo credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports)
Despite blowing a ninth-inning lead on Saturday, the Toronto Blue Jays feel good about the state of their game heading into the last seven games of the regular season.
On Sunday afternoon in a significant matchup at St. Petersburg, Fla., Toronto will face Tampa Bay Rays in the finale of a three-game series between the American League East rivals.
Toronto rallied from a 5-0 deficit in the middle contest, but closer Jordan Romano failed to hold a one-run lead as the Rays (95-61) came back to win 7-6 and assured themselves of -- at worst -- home-field advantage as the No. 1 AL wild-card team.
Toronto (86-69) is one game up on Houston (85-70) in the chase for the second AL wild card, with the Seattle Mariners (84-70) just a half-game behind the Astros.
"It helps playing in meaningful games," Blue Jays right-hander Kevin Gausman said. "You get that extra bit of adrenaline knowing that. To be honest, I'm trying to do better for my teammates than I am for myself.
"That's kind of the point where we're at. However bad you feel (following a loss), everybody else feels just as bad if not worse."
Yusei Kikuchi (10-6, 3.74 ERA) will get the start for Toronto on Sunday. The left-hander has turned in a pair of good performances and two poor ones in September, going 1-2 with a 4.58 ERA. He got a win in his most recent appearance, striking out seven while tossing five-plus innings of one-run ball against the New York Yankees on Tuesday.
Against the Rays in seven career outings (six starts), the southpaw is an impressive 4-1 with a 2.83 ERA. In two starts vs. Tampa Bay this year, he is 1-1 with a 4.91 ERA.
Tampa Bay will give the ball to Taj Bradley (5-7, 5.36) In his most recent start, on Tuesday against the Los Angeles Angels, the rookie right-hander turned in his best performance since his last win on June 21. Bradley yielded just one run on three hits in five innings during the Rays' 6-2 victory against Los Angeles, though he wasn't involved in the decision.
He struck out six, walked one and surrendered a solo homer to Logan O'Hoppe.
Bradley will hope to get offensive support from the Rays' Saturday hero, Josh Lowe. The right fielder went 3-for-5, homered and drove in four runs. He delivered a slicing single near the left field line with two outs in the ninth to give Tampa Bay a walk-off victory.
That helped erase the sting of a blown five-run lead and facing a 6-5 deficit with three outs to play.
Lowe was not surprised by the result, which featured rookies Curtis Mead and Junior Caminero -- in his major league debut -- contributing in the ninth.
Mead tied the game at 6-6 with a single.
Caminero, a 20-year-old who is the organization's top prospect, legged out a potential double-play grounder that was challenged and overturned into a fielder's choice -- allowing Lowe's heroics as the next batter. Caminero finished 1-for-4 with a walk and a run.
"Two good days for (Mead)," Lowe said of the third baseman, who hit his first homer on Friday. "We're going to see some of these guys who are just coming up contribute. They're doing great so far. A good moment today."
--Field Level Media