As they try to hang onto their AL East lead, the Tampa Bay Rays’ nine-game road trip against division rivals has not gotten off to an ideal start.
The Rays look to avoid getting swept for the first time in eight weeks when they wrap up their three-game series Sunday against the surging Toronto Blue Jays, who are seeking their longest winning streak in nine years.
Tampa Bay (85-55) has been the most surprising team in the majors this year, but is struggling to close out its first division title after losing the first two games of this road trip and four of five overall. The Rays’ lead over second-place Boston in the East has dwindled to 2 1/2 games.
After Sunday’s finale at the Rogers Centre, the Rays travel to Boston for three games before visiting the New York Yankees for three games.
On Saturday, the Rays scored three runs in the top of the ninth to tie the score, but Toronto’s Gregg Zaun hit a grand slam in the 13th to give the Blue Jays (75-66) a 7-4 victory. This is the first time the Rays have lost a road series since being swept in four games at Cleveland from July 10-13 - also the last time Tampa Bay was swept.
“You’re going to lose games like this,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said. “When you get into the playoffs, you’re going to lose some tough games and you’ve got to come back tomorrow. That’s why it’s 162, that’s why they call it a grind. Sometimes you get your heart broken for about 30 minutes but you’ve got to put it back together, come back tomorrow and play another game and that’s what we’ll do.”
Matt Garza (11-8, 3.64 ERA) looks to help the Rays get back on track when he takes the ball Sunday.
The right-hander allowed six runs - four earned - and five hits in five innings of a 7-2 loss to the New York Yankees on Tuesday, his first loss since Aug. 4. He has not lost consecutive starts since June 3 and 8.
Garza, though, has been exceptional versus the Blue Jays this season, throwing 24 1-3 shutout innings to win his last three starts against them. On Aug. 27 against Toronto, he gave up six hits in 7 2-3 innings of a 1-0 win.
Garza is also 2-0 with a 1.90 ERA in his last three road starts - a stretch which began with a five-hitter in a 3-0 win at Rogers Centre on July 29.
Toronto, though, has outscored its opponents 47-25 to win its last seven games and move a season-high nine games above .500. The Blue Jays have not been 10 games over the break-even mark since finishing the 2006 season 87-55, and have not won eight consecutive games since April 14-22, 1999.
Struggling rookie David Purcey (2-5, 6.15) tries to help the Blue Jays win their eighth in a row when he takes the ball Sunday.
The 26-year-old left-hander was tagged for five runs and seven hits in three innings of a 7-5 win over Minnesota on Tuesday, the second time in three starts he lasted four innings or less.
Against Garza and the Rays on Aug. 27, Purcey pitched a complete game. He allowed one run and five hits with a career-high 11 strikeouts, but took the tough-luck loss.