The Tampa Bay Rays realize time is running out to mount a late charge for a playoff spot. Getting their lineup back on track to help James Shields(notes) rediscover his winning touch on the road would be a good starting point for a turnaround.
Looking to snap a four-start skid away from home, Shields takes the mound for the struggling Rays on Friday night in the opener of a four-game series with the Toronto Blue Jays.
After scoring 19 runs in a three-game sweep of Seattle last weekend, Tampa Bay (70-59) managed just six runs while dropping three of four to AL Central-leading Detroit, including Thursday’s 2-0 loss.
“The offense has really struggled. We have to figure it out. Obviously, it’s late in the year and it’s coming to that point where it’s crunch time,” said Matt Joyce(notes), who’s gone 1 for 12 in Toronto this year.
The Rays are 9 1/2 games behind first-place Boston in the AL East, and 8 1/2 games in back of the New York Yankees for the wild card. Ten of Tampa Bay’s final 19 games are against the Red Sox and Yankees.
First, the Rays look to improve their 7-4 mark versus Toronto in the season series, in which they have received contributions from veterans and rookies alike.
Three of Ben Zobrist’s(notes) seven hits in the season series have been homers, and he’s driven in six to tie first-year catcher Robinson Chirinos(notes), Johnny Damon(notes) and Joyce for the team lead. B.J. Upton(notes) is 11 for 45 with two homers and five RBIs versus the Blue Jays (66-64), but he’s struck out a team-high 13 times.
A resurgent offense could provide a boost for Shields (11-10, 3.05 ERA), who’s handled Toronto easily in 2011 but has struggled away from home lately.
Since tossing a three-hitter at major league-worst Houston on June 24, the right-hander has given up 17 runs in 26 innings during his road losing streak. Shields has received a total of two runs of support in those four outings.
The major league leader with nine complete games, Shields fired a four-hitter in a 2-0 win on April 24 at Rogers Centre. Pitching at home on Aug. 3, he limited Toronto to one run in 7 1-3 innings of the Rays’ 9-1 victory.
Shields was lit up for seven runs and a season high-tying 12 hits in 7 1-3 innings Sunday against last-place Seattle, but didn’t get a decision in the Rays’ 8-7 win. He had surrendered four runs while going 2-1 in his first three overall starts this month,
Toronto (66-64) fell for the fourth time in six games with Thursday’s 9-6 loss to Kansas City.
The 21-year-old right-hander has given up nine runs in 21 1-3 innings. He took the loss in Saturday’s 5-1 defeat at Oakland after yielding two runs in seven innings.
Blue Jays manager John Farrell was taken to a hospital Thursday night with muscle pains on his left side. He was later diagnosed with pneumonia and released from the hospital, and is expected to rejoin the team Friday.