A recent offensive surge has helped the Tampa Bay Rays remain a serious contender for an AL postseason spot.
Looking for a fifth consecutive victory, the Rays try to complete a series sweep Sunday by continuing their home dominance of the Toronto Blue Jays.
Desmond Jennings went 3 for 3 with a homer and Evan Longoria added a three-run shot as Tampa Bay (82-70) rolled to an 11-5 win Saturday. Sitting 3 1/2 games out of the final wild-card spot, the Rays have recorded 31 hits while outscoring Toronto 23-6 through the first two games of the set.
“We have to have another one-game winning streak (Sunday),” manager Joe Maddon said. “Anxiety lives in the future. You’ve got to stay in the present.”
Tampa Bay ranks near the bottom of the majors with a .241 batting average, but has hit .381 with nine homers while holding a 43-13 scoring advantage during its four-game run. Jennings is 8 for 18 with five RBIs during that stretch while Longoria is 6 for 15.
“It seems like we’ve been having more fun,” Longoria said. “That’s probably the biggest thing. It’s really all about the belief that you can score runs, and we didn’t have that for a while. It seems like it’s back now.”
After securing their 17th consecutive winning home series against the Blue Jays (66-84), the Rays will try for an eighth straight home victory over Toronto. Tampa Bay has averaged 5.1 runs while winning 36 of 46 over the Blue Jays at Tropicana Field.
“I can only speak to the last two years,” said Toronto manager John Farrell, whose team has dropped five in a row and nine of 11 overall. “We’ve been in some close games here late in games where they’ve hit a ball out of the ballpark or scored some runs late. They’re a good team.”
The Rays might have a good chance to continue that dominance against Chad Jenkins (0-1, 4.91 ERA), who makes his first major league start in the finale.
Jenkins, who has made his first 10 major league appearances out of the bullpen, went 4-9 with a 4.96 ERA in 20 starts for Double-A New Hampshire before being called up Aug. 5. The right-hander has a 2.25 ERA in two outings versus Tampa Bay.
The Rays counter with Jeremy Hellickson (8-10, 3.31), who is 0-2 with a 3.46 ERA in his last five starts while receiving an average of 2.77 runs of support. The right-hander allowed three runs and struck out seven while throwing 94 pitches in four innings of a 7-5 loss to Boston on Tuesday.
Hellickson is 1-2 with a 2.84 ERA against the Blue Jays this season.
Toronto slugger Edwin Encarnacion, who had an RBI on Saturday, is 5 for 14 with two doubles and a homer versus Hellickson.
Blue Jays shortstop Yunel Escobar went 0 for 4 after being back in the starting lineup two days following the conclusion of his three-game suspension for wearing eye-black displaying an anti-gay slur written in Spanish. He is batting .207 (6 for 29) at Tropicana Field in 2012.