Blue Jays vs. Rays Series Preview: Is a wild-card battle next?

Toronto Blue Jays slugger Brandon Belt speaks to Hazel Mae after a win over the New York Yankees, discussing why he loves playing with the roof closed at Rogers Centre and a terrific start from Chris Bassitt.

The Toronto Blue Jays conclude the regular season with a three-game weekend series against the Tampa Bay Rays at Rogers Centre — exactly one week after the teams played three games in the Sunshine State.

Following the final out Sunday, it’s entirely possible both teams could be heading to Tampa for another series — this time in the wild-card round.

The Blue Jays currently are second in the American League wild-card race. If they stay in that slot, they’ll face the Rays, the No. 1-ranked wild-card team, in a best-of-three series next Tuesday through Thursday.

But first, the Blue Jays must nail down a wild-card spot and hold off the third-place team — currently the Houston Astros.

Here’s a look at how everything stands.

Probable Pitchers

Friday, 7:07 p.m. ET / 4:07 p.m. PT: Toronto LHP Yusei Kikuchi (10-6, 3.82 ERA) vs. Tampa Bay RHP Aaron Civale (7-4, 3.43 ERA)

Saturday, 3:07 p.m. ET / 12:07 p.m. PT: Pitchers TBA

Sunday, 3:07 p.m. ET / 12:07 p.m. PT: Pitchers TBA

Latest on the Blue Jays

The Blue Jays (88-71) have a magic number of two to wrap up a playoff berth — meaning any combination of Toronto wins and Seattle Mariners losses totalling two sends the Blue Jays to the playoffs.

Toronto is one game up on the Astros for the second wild-card spot. If those two teams finish tied, Toronto has the tiebreaker. Toronto is two up on the Mariners with Seattle owning that tiebreaker.

If Toronto finishes third in the wild-card race, it will mean a trip to Minnesota to meet the Twins.

After two shutout losses to open a series against the visiting New York Yankees, the Blue Jays notched a much-needed 6-0 win over the Yankees on Thursday. Daulton Varsho, Matt Chapman and Brandon Belt hit home runs and Chris Bassitt pitched 7.2 innings of shutout ball, while striking out 12, to get to 200 innings for the season.

[brightcove videoID=6337956134112 playerID=JCdte3tMv height=360 width=640]

The Blue Jays would like to secure a playoff spot before Sunday, so they can hold ace Kevin Gausman for Tuesday’s wild-card opener. After that, the Blue Jays likely have a choice between Bassitt and Jose Berrios for Game 2.

Latest on the Rays

The Rays (97-62) have nothing to play for this weekend after the Baltimore Orioles clinched the AL East title with a 2-0 win over the Boston Red Sox on Thursday. Tampa is locked into the top wild-card spot.

The Rays, who were off Thursday, opted to hold their champagne celebration for making the playoffs on Wednesday after a 5-0 win in Boston. They decided not to do so on Sept. 17 when they actually clinched a playoff berth, a day they blew a late lead and lost at Baltimore.

“I know it’s different,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said, per Tampa Bay Times reporter Marc Topkin. “I just told the guys, ‘We’re different. We’re the Rays.’”

Tyler Glasnow, one of Tampa’s top starters, pitched Wednesday in a 5-0 win over Boston so he’ll be ready for Game 1 or 2 of a wild-card series. Same for Zach Eflin, who pitched Tuesday.

[brightcove videoID=6337959076112 playerID=JCdte3tMv height=360 width=640]

Out of Town

The Mariners beat the AL West-leading Texas Rangers 3-2 in the opener of a four-game series on Thursday. Texas is two games up on on Houston for the division lead.

The Blue Jays can clinch Friday with a Toronto win and a Seattle loss, but it wouldn’t happen until about 1 a.m. ET as the Mariners’ game starts at 10:10 p.m. ET / 7:10 p.m. PT (Sportsnet ONE, Sportsnet+).

The Astros start a three-game series in Arizona against the NL wild-card contending Diamondbacks on Friday at 9:40 p.m. ET / 6:40 p.m. PT (Sportsnet+).

If the Blue Jays win and the Astros and Mariners both lose Friday, a Toronto-Tampa wild-card series is locked in.

Starting Situation

The Blue Jays moved up Kikuchi a day to start Friday ahead of Hyun Jin Ryu. This could be a sign they see Kikuchi as a more viable candidate than Ryu to go out of the bullpen on the playoff roster.

Bowden Francis seems like a strong candidate to come up from the minors and make Sunday’s start if the Blue Jays have nothing to play for in the finale.

Injury Report

The Rays have been hit hard by injuries all season with four of the five members of their season-opening starting rotation out.

Outfielder Randy Arozarena (quad tightness) returned Wednesday after exiting last weekend’s series opener against Toronto.

First baseman Yandy Diaz, who exited the series finale against Toronto with hamstring tightness, hopes to return Friday, though it’s possible that could be delayed considering the Rays’ spot in the standings.

Outfielder Jose Siri (fractured right hand) is trying to make it back for the playoffs, while outfielder Luke Raley (cervical strain), reliever Jason Adam (left oblique strain) and second baseman Brandon Lowe (right patella fracture) are questionable for the post-season.

Star shortstop Wander Franco remains on administrative leave as Dominican authorities investigate alleged relationships with minors.

Season Series

The Blue Jays are 5-5 against the Rays this year after winning two of three in Tampa last weekend. Toronto has a shot to win its first season series against the Rays since 2017.

Three years ago…

The Blue Jays, based out of Buffalo, N.Y. at the time because of COVID-19 restrictions, were in Tampa in 2020 for a best-of-three first-round series in the expanded playoffs.

Top-seeded Tampa swept the series against the No. 8 Blue Jays, winning 3-1 and 8-2.

Tampa went on to lose in the World Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Up Next

Playoff baseball or, if it’s a disastrous weekend, locker-cleanout day.

When submitting content, please abide by our submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.