08/07/10 1:14 PM ET
Jays hope to ride power surge to sweep of Rays
By Spencer Fordin / MLB.com
Tampa Bay snapped Toronto's streak of homering in 13 straight games in the series opener, only to see the league's most prolific power-hitting team spring for eight homers in Saturday's 17-11 win. That represented the most home runs Tampa Bay has ever given up and the most the Blue Jays have hit since September of 1987.
Now, Andy Sonnanstine has to take the mound in Sunday's finale well aware that Toronto -- which boasts the Major League leader in home runs (Jose Bautista) and seven players with double-digit homer totals -- can explode at any moment. His counterpart, Brandon Morrow, knows that Tampa Bay has still taken six of the 11 games in this season series.
Prior to Saturday, Tampa Bay's most pressing concern was an absent offense. The Rays had batted just .211 over the previous 14-game stretch, and it had still carved out a 10-4 record due to a 2.44 team ERA. Tampa Bay has lost four straight games, and Sonnanstine will be pitching in place of rotation stalwart Jeff Niemann.
Niemann was originally scheduled to start on Sunday, but the Rays elected to skip his turn after he experienced soreness in the back of his right shoulder. Sonnanstine, who had been on the disabled list with a strained right hamstring since the end of July, was activated on Saturday and will make his first start of the season.
And he'll have to do it against a team that's only adding power to its deep reservoir. Toronto leads the Majors with 175 home runs, and it also leads both leagues in homers (31) since the All-Star break. The Blue Jays have homered in 14 of their past 15 games, and with Saturday in the bank, they're averaging two a game.
Bautista, a big part of that, has homered in eight of his past 12 games and has 10 homers since the All-Star break. Toronto added another bat to the mix on Saturday in the form of rookie catcher J.P. Arencibia, who promptly homered on the first pitch of his first at-bat and later came back to add another long ball on top of the pile.
The Blue Jays are now 8-3 in their past 11 games and 9-1 in their past 10 against division rivals. Tampa Bay, on the other hand, is right behind the division-leading Yankees and has gone 23-11 since June 30. The Rays and Blue Jays will play six more times after Sunday's game, and Tampa Bay will also play Baltimore 10 times.
"Since I've been here, we've struggled against these guys," said Toronto veteran Lyle Overbay. "It's something that we've got to show ourselves that we can compete with them. Obviously, Carl Crawford is a Jay-killer, and so is Carlos Pena, so those two guys being out of the lineup is going to change it a little bit. But it's something that if we're going to compete at some level, sometime, whether it's this year or next year or whatever, we've got to beat these guys."
Rays: Crawford to return to lineup
The Rays gave Crawford his second consecutive day off on Saturday, a rarity for the speedster. Crawford, who has missed only six games all season, will be back in the lineup Sunday. Maddon said that he hoped to spark Crawford from a mild slump that has seen his average drop 20 points (from .322 to .302) in 16 games.
"[He played] 11 games in a row at home and this field here is kind of a tough field on him," said Maddon of Crawford, the league-leader in steals. "So I just chose to give him two in a row and he'll be back out there [Sunday]."
Blue Jays: Hill getting into groove
Aaron Hill homered twice on Saturday for Toronto, continuing his surge since the season's intermission. Hill hit just .188 with 12 homers before the All-Star break, and he's hitting .308 (24-for-78) with six homers in 20 games after the break. Hill, an All-Star last season, has his average back up to .214, the highest it's been since May 5.
Prior to Saturday's rout, the Rays had the lowest ERA (3.56) of any American League team this late into the season since the 1997 Baltimore Orioles (3.53). ... Arencibia became the first Blue Jays player to homer in his first at-bat since Junior Felix in 1989. ... Toronto reliever Scott Downs has a 19-inning scoreless streak, the second-longest in the league. ... Tampa Bay has the league-leader in wins (David Price) and saves (Rafael Soriano), which hasn't happened since the Yankees did it in 1994 (Andy Pettitte and John Wetteland). ... Tampa Bay is 33-20 on the road. ... Evan Longoria has hit just three home runs in his past 41 games (158 at-bats) and is batting .163 (9-for-55) in his past 15 games.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.