Slumping Jays turn to Robbie Ray vs. Twins

Field Level Media

September 25, 2021 at 11:28 am.

The Toronto Blue Jays are tied with the red-hot Seattle Mariners, two games behind the New York Yankees for the final wild-card spot in the American League with eight games to go.

And despite losing three straight games, including the first two of their four-game series with the AL Central cellar-dwelling Minnesota Twins, Jays manager Charlie Montoyo isn’t ready to push the panic button.

“This is the same team,” Montoyo said after Toronto (85-69) managed just four hits in a 3-1 loss to the Twins (69-85) on Friday night in Minneapolis. “Maybe guys are feeling a little pressure, but that’s a privilege. We have earned it, to get to this point and to still have a chance after everything we’ve overcome the whole year.”

There’s still plenty of reason for optimism for Montoyo’s squad. The Blue Jays still have a three-game showdown with the Yankees in Toronto next week. And Jays left-hander Robbie Ray (12-6, 2.72 ERA), perhaps the front-runners for the AL Cy Young Award, will be on the mound to try and stop the skid in Saturday night’s Game 3 of the series.

Ray leads the American League in ERA and strikeouts (238) heading into his 31st start of the season. He’ll be opposed by right-hander John Gant (5-9, 3.76), who will make his first career appearance against the Blue Jays.

“It’s huge,” said Jays center fielder George Springer of Ray getting the start. “He’s been our horse all year. He’s just an absolute competitor out there. He’s pitched in big spots. It’s awesome to have him out there. I know for sure we’ll flush these last few days and get right behind him.”

Springer, the 2017 World Series MVP with the Houston Astros, has been in pressure situations before.

“It’s not the ideal time to lose three straight, but that’s the game,” said Springer, who is 0-for-20 against the Twins this season. “We have to flush it. It is what it is. We’ve got our guy going tomorrow. We’ve got to really get behind him and see what happens.”

Ray hasn’t faced the Twins since his rookie season with the Detroit Tigers in 2014, when he compiled a 0-1 record and 10.80 ERA in three appearances (two starts) against them. No doubt he’d love to flush his only other start at Target Field that season, when he allowed six runs in just 1 1/3 innings of a 20-6 loss.

Minnesota will take a four-game winning streak into Saturday’s game, which will be preceded by a special ceremony honoring Justin Morneau. The 2006 AL MVP will become the 34th member of the Twins’ Hall of Fame.

Minnesota’s Bailey Ober picked up the win in Friday night’s 3-1 victory, allowing one run — the 42nd home run of the season by Marcus Semien – and four hits over 5 1/3 innings before turning the game over to the bullpen.

Four relievers then combined to no-hit the Blue Jays, with Alex Colome earning his 16th save with a five-pitch, 1-2-3 ninth inning.

Byron Buxton highlighted a three-run third inning with a two-run homer, and Luis Arraez added an RBI triple as the Twins spoiled the Target Field homecoming of Toronto starter Jose Berrios, who finished with 10 strikeouts over six innings.

“These are big games obviously for the Blue Jays,” Minnesota manager Rocco Baldelli said. “Jose took the ball on their end. He was very sharp. His stuff was electric. He pitched very, very well. Our guys just pitched better today. And that’s really what it all came down to.”