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Rays-Blue Jays Preview

AP - Sports

The AL wild card-leading Tampa Bay Rays continue to inch closer to locking up a playoff spot.

The Toronto Blue Jays' R.A. Dickey, meanwhile, is set to conclude what's been a disappointing year.

Seeking a season high-tying eighth consecutive win, the visiting Rays have a chance to clinch Friday night in the first of three against the Blue Jays.

Evan Longoria stayed hot with two hits and three RBIs and Delmon Young hit a home run as Tampa Bay (90-69) swept the New York Yankees with Thursday's 4-0 road win. The Rays, who have outscored opponents 37-13 during their winning streak, lowered their magic number for securing a wild-card berth to two. They can clinch with a win and a Texas loss to the Los Angeles Angels.

Tampa Bay has now posted four consecutive 90-win seasons for the first time in franchise history.

"That's outstanding, a great tribute to the organization from top to bottom," said manager Joe Maddon, whose team won eight straight July 4-11. "There's a really nice quiet confidence among them. ... They're really sniffing it, and that matters. And so you're seeing a higher level of mental play."

The Rays now turn their attention to Dickey (13-13, 4.27 ERA), who hasn't lived up to expectations in his first season with the Blue Jays.

The reigning NL Cy Young Award winner, who had gone 4-0 with a 2.73 ERA in his previous five outings, struck out a season-high 11 and went the distance in Sunday's 5-2 loss at Boston.

Dickey surrendered his 32nd and 33rd homers, the second-most in the majors.

"He gives up fly balls, that's part of being a knuckleballer, but he threw a tremendous game if you take away the two home runs," manager John Gibbons told MLB's official website. "The problem is you can't take away the two home runs."

Dickey's complete game was his third of the year.

"I had a good knuckleball, I've had a good knuckleball for quite some time and I expected better from what I felt and what I saw the ball doing."

Dickey is 3-1 with a 2.40 ERA in six matchups against the Rays since last year. He has baffled several of their hitters, including Ben Zobrist (2 for 19), Desmond Jennings (1 for 16), Luke Scott (1 for 13), Jose Molina (0 for 10) and rookie Wil Myers (0 for 6).

Tampa Bay counters with Jeremy Hellickson (12-9, 5.16), who threw 2 1-3 scoreless innings of relief and earned the win last Friday in a 5-4, 18-inning victory over Baltimore.

The right-hander, though, was hit hard in his last start, surrendering five runs before exiting with two outs in the third inning of a 7-1 loss to Texas on Sept. 17. His ERA ranks third-highest in all of baseball among qualified pitchers.

"It's been a back-and-forth battle with him," Maddon said. "Even in games he's won, there have been a lot of runs scored. It's just been awkward with him. He just hasn't been as steady as he's been in the past. Why? I don't really know. ... I don't have any solid answers."

Hellickson is 3-0 with a 2.45 ERA during a six-start stretch versus Toronto. Brett Lawrie is 1 for 19 in their matchups.

Lawrie, 1 for his last 19, is hitting .185 in 13 games against the Rays this year.

Longoria is batting .374 with seven homers and 28 RBIs in 29 games in the series since last season. He is 7 for 13 with two homers and eight RBIs in his last three games overall.

Tampa Bay has won 24 of 33 against Toronto.

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