The Toronto Blue Jays might not be in contention for a playoff spot this season, but they have a clear plan for moving forward. The Tampa Bay Rays set the blueprint for contending in the American League East with a smaller payroll, and the Blue Jays are following their lead. The Rays have seen their on-field success slip lately, leaving them with a big gap in the American League wild card chase. Emerging Toronto has pulled up right on the heels of Tampa Bay and is making a strong bid for its first third-place finish in the AL East since 2007. David Price will be looking to hold off the visiting Blue Jays when he takes the mound for the Rays in the opener of a three-game set Tuesday night.
TV: 7:10 p.m. ET, Rogers Sportsnet (Toronto), SunSports (Tampa Bay)
PITCHING MATCHUP: Rays LH David Price (9-9, 3.76 ERA) vs. Blue Jays LH Ricky Romero (8-9, 3.08).
Price has had a bit of a rough time lately, posting a 1-3 record with a 5.04 ERA in five July starts. The 25-year-old ace has seen both his walk and home run rates tick up during that stretch. One team that has never given Price much trouble is Toronto, against which the lefthander is 8-0 with a 1.99 ERA in nine career starts. Price struck out 10 and allowed four hits in 8 2/3 innings to earn a win over the Blue Jays on May 5. Romero snapped a four-start winless streak last week when he dominated the Baltimore Orioles, striking out nine in 8 1/3 scoreless innings to pick up the win. The 26-year-old lefthander is on pace to set career bests in ERA and strikeouts and has cut down on his home run rate over the last few outings. Romero earned a win over the Rays on May 19, surrendering one run on three hits in seven innings. He is 3-3 with a 3.69 ERA in seven career starts against the division rivals.
ABOUT THE RAYS (56-51): Tampa Bay had several big names rumored to be available for the right price prior to Sunday's trade deadline. But the Rays never got the big offers they wanted and elected to hang onto players such as B.J. Upton, James Shields and Kyle Farnsworth. With the team intact, Tampa Bay will attempt to make a huge run over the last two months and close a gap in the wild card race that had reached 8 games by Sunday. The New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox don't appear to be slowing down anytime soon, while the Rays seem to just now be pulling out of a funk that saw them drop nine of 13 out of the All-Star break. They have picked it up by taking three of their last four with an offensive explosion that has included a total of 26 runs in the three victories.
ABOUT THE BLUE JAYS (55-53): Toronto general manager Alex Anthopoulos continues to make bets on high-upside players who have fallen out of favor with their old clubs. Just as he did in bringing in shortstop Yunel Escobar from the Atlanta Braves last season, Anthopoulos plucked Colby Rasmus from the St. Louis Cardinals for a handful of players who don't expect to be around when the team tries to contend next season. A vastly improved farm system is also on the verge of churning out major leaguers. The Blue Jays have won eight of their last 12, including two of three from the powerful Texas Rangers.
FINAL PITCH: Toronto slugger Jose Bautista leads the majors with 31 homers but has not gone deep in 14 straight games - his longest drought of the season. Bautista has three career homers off Price in 19 at-bats.
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