Blue Jays on verge of clinching playoff berth after victory over Rays
TORONTO — If the Toronto Blue Jays continue with the well-rounded attack that led them to an 11-4 win over Tampa Bay on Friday, they'll be a tough out in the playoffs.
All they have to do now is formally book their post-season ticket.
Toronto can lock down a wild-card berth with another win over the Rays on Saturday. The Texas Rangers failed to do it for them by losing 8-0 to the Seattle Mariners later Friday night.
With the odds firmly in the Blue Jays' favour, it appears to be just a matter of time.
"This is what we can do," said Toronto manager John Schneider. "Everyone talks about our pitching and our defence. But this lineup can score some runs.
"Hopefully we can continue to roll."
Alejandro Kirk, Brandon Belt and Matt Chapman homered for the Blue Jays, who outhit the Rays 16-7.
Bo Bichette had four hits and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. chipped in with three as Toronto (89-71) won for the ninth time in 13 games.
"Timely hitting is a good thing," Schneider said. "If you're doing that with guys on base and you're hitting home runs, it's a really good thing."
Yandy Diaz was a bright spot for the Rays (97-63), who have already secured the first wild-card berth and No. 4 seed in the American League. He hit a two-run homer and reached base three times.
The win strengthened the Blue Jays' grip on the second wild-card spot. It also trimmed their magic number to one over the Mariners.
The East champion Baltimore Orioles have clinched the top seed in the AL and the Central champion Minnesota Twins will be seeded third.
The Rangers have a one-game lead on Houston in the race for the West Division crown and second seed. The Astros, who beat the Arizona Diamondbacks 2-1 on Friday, are in the third wild-card spot, one game behind Toronto and one game ahead of Seattle.
Several standings outcomes and potential playoff matchups remained in place entering the season's final weekend.
The Rays started most of their regulars in front of a sellout crowd of 42,394 even though the three-game series is essentially a playoff tune-up.
Tampa Bay was aggressive from the outset against Toronto starter Yusei Kikuchi (11-6), who needed only five pitches to record the first three outs.
Tampa starter Aaron Civale (7-5) was pulled in the second inning after giving up Kirk's eighth homer of the year and putting the next two runners on.
Zack Littell got out of the jam but struggled in the third as he gave up back-to-back hits, a walk and two-run single to Kirk that plated Guerrero and Bichette.
Cavan Biggio made it 4-0 when he trotted home on a deep sacrifice fly by Kevin Kiermaier.
Centre-fielder Manuel Margot dropped a fly ball that allowed Chapman to reach second base and moved Kirk to third. Littell escaped further damage by retiring Daulton Varsho and Springer.
Belt led off the bottom of the fourth inning with his 18th homer of the season and second blast in as many days.
Margot's rough night continued later in the frame when he misjudged Biggio's sharp single, allowing the ball to roll to the wall. Bichette ran home ahead of Biggio, who scored without a throw.
"It’s going to happen," said Rays manager Kevin Cash. "Sometimes those days, they just get you."
Chapman went deep in the fifth inning for his 17th homer of the year. Diaz put Tampa on the board in the Rays' four-run sixth with his 22nd homer.
The Blue Jays added insurance runs in the bottom half on Biggio's two-run single. Toronto tacked on another run in the seventh.
Kikuchi allowed five hits and three earned runs over five-plus innings. He issued two walks and had four strikeouts.
"It feels great when everybody is hitting," Kikuchi said. "It's a good feeling and hopefully we can carry on for the next few days."
Chad Green, Yimi Garcia and Jay Jackson pitched in relief for Toronto. Pinch-hitter Cam Eden struck out in his first big-league at-bat in the eighth inning.
The game took two hours 45 minutes to play.
The Blue Jays plan to start Hyun Jin Ryu (3-3, 3.31 earned-run average) on Saturday afternoon. The Rays did not immediately name their starter.
Toronto's Kevin Gausman (12-9, 3.16) is slated to close out the campaign on Sunday.
The Blue Jays have not committed an error in their last 10 games.
Toronto has played a team-record 106 error-free games this season. The previous mark was 103 games in 1990.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 29, 2023.
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