Still in the thick of the American League wild-card race, the Toronto Blue Jays open their final road series of the season on Thursday night against the Minnesota Twins in Minneapolis.
Left-hander Steven Matz (13-7, 3.84 ERA) will start the opener of the four-game set for Toronto, going against veteran right-hander Michael Pineda (7-8, 3.74).
The Blue Jays took two of three games from the Twins last weekend in Toronto. Matz, who is 1-0 with a 3.72 ERA in two career starts against Minnesota, picked up the victory in a 6-2 decision on Saturday afternoon after Pineda, who is 3-5 with a 4.29 ERA in 15 career starts against the Blue Jays, pitched Minnesota to a 7-3 win in the Friday night series opener.
Toronto (85-67) began the road trip by dropping two of three at AL East leader Tampa Bay (94-59). The Jays fell 7-1 in a Wednesday afternoon game that saw the benches clear when Blue Jays reliever Ryan Borucki nailed Rays outfielder Kevin Kiermaier in the back with an eighth-inning pitch.
Kiermaier had picked up a scouting card that had fallen out of the wristband of Toronto catcher Alejandro Kirk during a play at the plate in Monday's contest and took it with him into Tampa Bay's dugout, drawing the ire of the Blue Jays.
Borucki said the ball "slipped out of his hand" and that hitting Kiermaier was "accidental" but umpire Joe West, who immediately ejected Borucki, and Kiermaier saw it differently.
During a postgame celebration observing the Rays clinching a postseason spot, Kiermaier called Borucki's pitch intentional and "a weak move" and said he would like to catch up to the Blue Jays in October.
"I hope we play those guys, I really do," Kiermaier said. "I hope we play them."
The Blue Jays, who fell a half-game behind the New York Yankees for the second wild-card spot, would seem to have the edge in the scheduling department to sneak into the playoffs.
After the four games in Minnesota, Toronto returns home for a three-game showdown with the Yankees. The Blue Jays then finish the season with three games against the American League's worst team, the Baltimore Orioles.
New York, meanwhile, must go on the road this weekend for three games against the Boston Red Sox (88-65), who have won seven in a row and hold a two-game lead for the top wild-card spot. The Yankees finish the regular season with three home games against Tampa Bay.
"This is the first series we've lost (in a while)," Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo said following the Wednesday defeat. "We'd won seven in a row. We are playing good baseball. Today our pitching struggled a little bit and we were playing from behind, but we have been playing good baseball. They know what is going on."
Minnesota completed a two-game series sweep of the host Chicago Cubs with a 5-4 victory Wednesday night.
Twins rookie right-hander Joe Ryan struck out a career-high 11 over five innings, fanning each of the last seven batters he faced. Ryan, who allowed two runs on three hits and walked one while throwing 86 pitches, became the first pitcher in Senators/Twins history to strike out 11 or more batters in five or fewer innings.
"Joe was absolutely dialed in," Minnesota manager Rocco Baldelli said. "He attacked them. He attacked them in the strike zone and he attacked them with pitches that they had trouble with. ... It was just a wonderful start."
Ryan's performance overshadowed a big offensive night by right fielder Max Kepler, who went 3-for-4 with two home runs, a double, three runs and three RBIs.
--Field Level Media