Blue Jays target second wild card vs. Rays

Field Level Media

September 29, 2023 at 7:06 am.

The Tampa Bay Rays visit the Toronto Blue Jays on Friday night for the opener of a three-game series between teams that could meet in the first round of the playoffs.

The Rays, who had Thursday off, have clinched the first American League wild-card spot.

The Blue Jays (88-71) could clinch the second wild-card berth during the weekend. In that case, they would meet the Rays (97-62) in a best-of-three series in the first round of the playoffs, with all games to be played St. Petersburg, Fla.

Toronto moved closer to clinching a playoff spot Thursday night with a 6-0 victory over the New York Yankees.

Chris Bassitt struck out 12 in 7 2/3 innings and reached 200 innings pitched for the first time in his career. Brandon Belt hit a three-run home run and Daulton Varsho and Matt Chapman had solo shots for Toronto.

The Blue Jays had been shut out in the first two games of the three-game series with the Yankees that opened a six-game season-ending homestand.

Toronto won two of three vs. the host Rays last weekend.

The Blue Jays are scheduled to start left-hander Yusei Kikuchi (10-6, 3.82 ERA) on Friday. In eight career games — seven starts — against Tampa Bay, he is 4-1 with a 3.23 ERA.

The Rays are scheduled to start right-hander Aaron Civale (7-4, 3.43). In two career starts against Toronto, he is 1-1 with a 6.17 ERA.

The Rays have had to deal with injuries all season.

The list grew when left fielder Randy Arozarena (quadriceps tightness) left the game against Toronto last Friday and first baseman Yandy Diaz (hamstring) left the game on Sunday.

Arozarena returned to the lineup on Wednesday in Boston and went 1-for-4 in a 5-0 victory over the Red Sox. Diaz could return for the series opener against the Blue Jays.

“This team is much better with Randy on the field. I’m glad that he’s OK,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said before the game on Wednesday. “We all know what he’s done in the postseason and want to get him timed up as much as possible here with these last four (games) remaining.”

Diaz is hoping to play in two or three games in Toronto to prepare for the playoffs.

“I was going to be ready to play (Wednesday), but (Tuesday) I didn’t feel too great,” Diaz said through team interpreter Manny Navarro. “So we’re going to hopefully go the first game (Friday) in Toronto.”

Diaz, who has dealt with several nagging injuries during the season, said he had tightness in his leg going into the game on Sunday and he aggravated it on a first-inning single.

The Blue Jays tinkered with their lineup for the game Thursday.

Belt was moved into the second spot in the lineup, with Bo Bichette shifted to the No. 4 spot.

“I know it looks very reactionary; it’s something we’ve been talking about for a long time,” Blue Jays manager John Schneider said. “Just wanted to see what we had when Brandon came back, and his at-bats, but it’s strictly getting Bo up with guys on base.”

Belt, who returned from the injured list this week, was 1-for-4 on Thursday, and Bichette was 2-for-4.

The Blue Jays had been dominated in the first two games against the Yankees by starters Michael King and Gerrit Cole.

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