The Tampa Bay Rays ' offense has awoken over the past three games, but there's a very real possibility it's too late to make a difference.
With their margin for error dwindling, the Rays look to stay hot at the plate while running their winning streak to four Saturday night as they face the visiting Toronto Blue Jays, who will have shortstop Yunel Escobar back in the lineup.
Tampa Bay (81-70) hit .204 and was held to 3.25 runs per game while dropping seven of eight Sept. 11-18, a stretch that dropped it from one game out of playoff position to six back.
Manager Joe Maddon referred to those woes at the plate as a "seasonal misadventure" after the last loss in that skid, but his team - at least temporarily - has turned it around. After totaling 20 runs in their final two games against Boston, the Rays pounded out 16 hits in a 12-1 rout of Toronto on Friday.
Unfortunately for Maddon's club, winning isn't enough these days since they need AL East-leading New York or one of the current wild-card leaders - Baltimore or Oakland - to slip up. The Rays, who finish with three against the Orioles, are currently 4 1/2 behind the A's for the second spot and 6 1/2 in back of the Yankees."I totally, absolutely believe we can do this. I firmly believe that," Maddon said. "Again, it's about a bunch of one-game winning streaks on our part. We're very capable. We have the pitching to do it, and I do believe guys are fresh. ... We have to keep playing, keep applying pressure to (teams) that are slightly above us."
The Rays' chances would improve greatly if Matt Moore can end a five-start winless streak and help his team clinch its 17th consecutive home series against Toronto.
Moore (10-11, 3.88 ERA) has lost his last four outings, and the past two have been particularly rough. He gave up three runs and lasted a then season-low four innings in a 9-2 loss at Baltimore on Sept. 11, then made it through only three frames - yielding five runs - in a 6-4 loss at Yankee Stadium on Sunday.
"I didn't do a very good job of anything with put-aways the way I was supposed to," Moore said.
Moore is 1-1 with a 2.70 ERA in three starts versus Toronto (66-83) this season, and the Rays' staff has rarely failed to confound the Blue Jays. Tampa Bay's pitchers have a 2.39 ERA in helping the club go 12-4 against Toronto in 2012, and the starters have posted a 1.62 ERA in the last eight matchups.
That means the Jays may need a dynamic start from Brandon Morrow (8-6, 2.98), who's coming off the best of his five outings since returning from an oblique injury that cost him two and a half months. The right-hander held Boston to four hits over six innings Sunday, though Toronto's offense didn't break through until after he left in a 5-0 win.
Morrow's last victory came against the Rays on Aug. 31, when he allowed one run over 6 2-3 innings to win 2-1. He gave up a combined 12 runs in 11 innings of his first two starts versus Tampa Bay this season, and all three have come at Rogers Centre.
Morrow should be thrilled to finally start in St. Petersburg after going 2-0 with a 0.68 ERA there in 2011.
Quite a few Rays hitters might not share that sentiment. Evan Longoria is a .217 (5 for 23) hitter against Morrow, Ben Zobrist .138 (4 for 29) and B.J. Upton .182 (4 for 22) while Carlos Pena is hitless in 12 at-bats.
Desmond Jennings , however, is 5 for 11 with three homers off Morrow.
Escobar could give the Jays a boost Saturday, as he was batting fifth two days after serving a three-game suspension for wearing eye-black displaying an anti-gay slur written in Spanish.
|Toronto Blue Jays|
|September 16, 2012||Edwin Encarnacion||Day-to-Day||Sore right big toe|
|September 04, 2012||J.A. Happ||15-Day DL||Fractured right foot|
|August 27, 2012||Henderson Alvarez||Day-to-Day||Left game - left shin contusion|
|August 27, 2012||Aaron Laffey||Day-to-Day||Left game - left calf contusion|
|August 26, 2012||Jose Bautista||15-Day DL||Left wrist inflammation|
|August 23, 2012||David Cooper||15-Day DL||Upper back soreness|
|Tampa Bay Rays|
|September 11, 2012||Ryan Roberts||Day-to-Day||Left game - strained left forearm|
|September 08, 2012||Desmond Jennings||Day-to-Day||Lower back stiffness|
|September 07, 2012||David Price||Day-to-Day||Left shoulder soreness|
|August 31, 2012||Sean Rodriguez||15-Day DL||Fractured right hand|
|August 31, 2012||Sean Rodriguez||15-Day DL||Fractured right hand|
|August 28, 2012||Matt Joyce||Day-to-Day||Left game - strained left forearm|
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) -- Tampa Bay's suddenly potent lineup is powering the Rays back into the playoff chase.
B.J. Upton and Jose Molina homered during a six-run fifth inning and the surging Rays beat the Toronto Blue Jays 11-5 on Saturday night for their fourth consecutive victory.
Evan Longoria and Desmond Jennings also connected for the Rays, who moved within 3 1/2 games of Oakland for the second AL wild card. Tampa Bay has scored 43 runs during its winning streak.
"It seems like we've been having more fun," Longoria said. "That's probably the biggest thing. It's really all about the belief that you can score runs, and we didn't have that for a while. It seems like it's back now."
The Blue Jays have lost five in a row, including the first two of the weekend set against the Rays to make it 17 consecutive losing series at Tampa Bay - two short of the AL record. The New York Yankees won 19 consecutive home series against the St. Louis Browns from 1946-51.
"I can only speak to the last two years," Toronto manager John Farrell said. "It's an outstanding pitching staff. We've been in some close games here late in games where they've hit a ball out of the ballpark or scored some runs late. They're a good team."
Adam Lind drove in three runs for Toronto, and Brett Lawrie and Rajai Davis had two hits apiece.
Blue Jays shortstop Yunel Escobar was back in the starting lineup two days after he served a three-game suspension for wearing eye-black displaying an anti-gay slur written in Spanish. He went 0 for 4.
After Ben Francisco doubled in a run and Ryan Roberts added an RBI single, Molina and Upton each hit a two-run shot off Brad Lincoln as the Rays went up 11-4 in the fifth.
"We have to have another one-game winning streak (Sunday)," Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon said. "Anxiety lives in the future. You've got to stay in the present. You've got to focus on today, and that's what we've been doing."
Upton has 25 homers this season, including seven in his last 13 games.
Longoria put the Rays ahead 4-2 with a three-run homer in the second against Brandon Morrow (8-7), who gave up five runs and five hits in four innings.
Jennings tacked on a solo drive in the fourth for his fourth home run in 13 at-bats against Morrow.
Lind trimmed Tampa Bay's lead to 5-4 with a two-run triple in the fifth. The ball got past Jennings, who failed to make a sliding catch in left.
Toronto took a 2-0 lead in the first on Edwin Encarnacion 's RBI single and a sacrifice fly by Lind off Matt Moore .
Moore, who had lost his four previous starts, was pulled by Maddon after allowing two runs and three hits over 2 2-3 innings. The rookie left-hander departed with two on and has lasted four innings or less in three consecutive starts.
"I really don't feel (fatigued)," Moore said. "That's definitely not the issue."
Burke Badenhop (3-2) replaced Moore and retired all four batters he faced.
Tampa Bay got on the board in the first when Francisco walked - the Rays' third free pass of the inning - with the bases loaded and two outs.
Toronto's Adeiny Hechavarria had an eighth-inning RBI single.
Escobar, who was out during a three-game series against the Yankees, had a pinch-hit single in the eighth inning of the Blue Jays' 12-1 loss to the Rays on Friday night.
"It's time to get back in there," Farrell said. "Whether he's completely over what has taken place, I would venture to say that he's not. These are the things that he has to deal with."
Escobar apologized and said he meant it to be a joke.
NOTES: The Rays (82-70) clinched their fifth consecutive winning season. ... Toronto general manager Alex Anthopoulos said a key offseason goal will be to add depth to the Blue Jays' rotation. "We'll try and be aggressive," Anthopoulos said. ... Jennings reached five times on three hits and two walks. He scored four runs. ... Davis stole his 45th base this season in the third.