Daily Dose: Big Papi heating up

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David Ortiz has finally broken free of his season-long slump, taking CC
Sabathia deep Thursday for his third homer in five games. It’s
certainly not time to say that Big Papi is back to his usual self yet,
but he’s now 9-for-29 (.310) with three long balls already this month
after batting .185 with one homer in 178 at-bats through the end of
May.

Unfortunately for Ortiz and his fantasy owners this hot streak
figures to be put on hold over the weekend–and for nine of the next 15
games–because Boston will be playing under NL rules during interleague
games. He’ll no doubt see plenty of pinch-hitting opportunities and may
get a couple starts, but the Red Sox will just hope that he doesn’t
cool off before the AL schedule resumes on June 29.

While the Red Sox win eight straight games versus the Yankees for
the first time since 1912, here are some other notes from around
baseball …

* Kelvim Escobar looked fairly good in his return to the Angels’
rotation Saturday, but will give up plans of starting another game this
year after determining that his surgically repaired shoulder simply
isn’t ready for the workload. He’ll move to the bullpen, where he’s had
plenty of success in the past, and Angels relievers have combined for
an AL-worst 5.71 ERA. Matt Palmer will replace him in the rotation.

* David Price struggled to throw strikes again Thursday, failing to
make it out of the fifth inning while handing out six walks and needing
105 pitches to record 13 outs. Price has an impressive 26 strikeouts
and .188 opponents’ batting average in 19 innings, but 18 walks and
just 58 percent strikes. He showed good control prior to this season,
but walked 18 in 34.1 innings at Triple-A before the call-up.

* John Maine admitted Thursday that his shoulder “hurts a little
bit,” so New York placed him on the disabled list after initially just
pushing his next start back a day while saying that he was going
through a “dead arm” period. “Nothing serious,” Maine said. “My
shoulder is just fatigued. It’s dead. I think I pushed it a little too
much. Now it’s starting to lock up on me.” Fernando Nieve may fill-in
Saturday.

* Chien-Ming Wang will remain in the rotation for now, with manager
Joe Girardi saying Thursday that the struggling right-hander will make
one more start before the Yankees reevaluate his role. “At some point,
production is important,” Girardi said. “We told him that it’s a very
important start.” Wang will start Wednesday at home against the
Nationals, with his pregnant wife set to be induced Tuesday.

AL Quick Hits: Zack Greinke allowed three runs over 7.1 innings
in a no-decision Thursday, but two of them scored off the bullpen … Jim
Thome will be limited to pinch-hitting duties for the next nine games
of interleague play … Jason Bartlett (ankle) is expected to remain
sidelined until next week, but Pat Burrell (neck) will rejoin the
lineup Friday after missing a month … Ervin Santana allowed six runs
over 4.2 innings Thursday and now has a 7.47 ERA in six starts since
coming off the disabled list … Garrett Olson beat his old team
Thursday, holding the Orioles to two runs over five innings … Luke
Scott went deep again Thursday, giving him nine homers since coming off
the DL on May 27 … Gavin Floyd took a shutout into the eighth inning
Thursday, but got a no-decision when Bobby Jenks blew a save … Koji
Uehara returned from the DL by allowing four runs over five innings
Thursday … Orlando Hernandez will try a minor-league comeback with
Texas.

NL Quick Hits: St. Louis is reportedly interested in Miguel Tejada, which could be a good fit
… Max Scherzer shut out the Giants for 7.2 innings Thursday, tossing a
career-high 116 pitches … Willy Taveras went hitless Thursday and is
0-for-20 this month while battling through hamstring soreness … Huston
Street gave up a three-run homer Thursday while working on a fourth
straight day … Fighting the blogosphere
hasn’t slowed Raul Ibanez down, as he smacked a three-run homer
Thursday … Javier Jazquez had a dozen strikeouts over eight innings of
one-run ball Thursday, but got a no-decision … Mike MacDougal worked
three innings in the past two days, so Joe Beimel picked up a one-run
save Thursday … Carlos Delgado (hip) is reportedly still at least three
weeks from swinging a bat … Geoff Blum delivered his second
game-winning hit in 24 hours Thursday with a walk-off single in the
13th inning.

Young Blue Jays say they aren’t intimidated by top seed Rays

Blue Jays roster and schedule
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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) When the Tampa Bay Rays and Toronto Blue Jays opened the pandemic-delayed season a little over two months ago, there was little to indicate the AL East rivals might meet again to begin the playoffs.

While the Rays launched the truncated 60-game schedule with expectations of making a strong bid for their first division title in a decade, the Blue Jays generally were viewed as an immensely talented young team still years away from postseason contention.

Tampa Bay didn’t disappoint, shrugging off a slow start to go a league-best 40-20 and claim the No. 1 seed in the AL playoffs that begin Tuesday.

Lefty Blake Snell, who’ll start Game 1 of the best-of-three wild-card series against Toronto at Tropicana Field, also isn’t surprised that the eighth-seeded Blue Jays earned a spot, too.

The Rays won six of 10 games between the teams during the regular season, but were outscored 48-44 and outhomered 17-11.

And while Toronto (32-28) lacks the playoff experience Tampa Bay gained last season when the Rays beat Oakland in the AL wild-card game before falling to Houston in the divisional round, the Blue Jays are building with exciting young players such as Cavan Biggio, Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr.

“They’ve got a lot of young guys who can ball over there,” Snell said. “It’s going to be fun to compete and see how we do.”

Rays defensive whiz Kevin Kiermaier said Tampa Bay, in the playoffs in consecutive seasons for the second time franchise history, will not take the Blue Jays lightly.

“We know we’re playing a real good team,” Kiermaier said. “It’s not going to be easy, regardless of what a team is seeded.”

The Blue Jays, who’ll start right-hander Matt Shoemaker, aren’t conceding anything.

Bichette said he and his teammates respect how good Tampa Bay is, but are not intimidated by facing the No. 1 seed.

“I would say that we didn’t care who we played. I would say that we didn’t mind playing Tampa, that’s for sure. We’re familiar with them. We’ve played them well,” Bichette said.

“I think we’re confident in our ability against them. Our talent matches up well,” Bichette added. “We think if we play well we’ve got a good chance.”

NO FANS

The stands at Tropicana Field will be empty, leaving players to wonder what the atmosphere will be like for the playoffs.

Tampa Bay routinely rank at or near the bottom of the majors in attendance, but usually pack the stands in the domed stadium during the postseason.

“It will be different,” Bichette said. “Normally when you think of your first postseason you think 40,000, you think about not being able to think it’s so loud, stuff like that.”

The Blue Jays open the playoffs near where they hold spring training in Dunedin, Florida. It’s been a winding road for Toronto, which played its home games in Buffalo, New York, at the site of its Triple-A affiliate after the Canadian government barred the Blue Jays from hosting games at their own stadium because of coronavirus concerns.

CONFIDENT RAYS

Tampa Bay’s five-game loss to Houston in last year’s divisional round was a source of motivation during the regular season.

“It definitely lit a fire under everybody. It really showed us we belong. … We gave them a tough series,” second baseman Brandon Lowe said.

“We won the wild-card game. We belong in the postseason. I think that did a lot for us to understand that we should be in the postseason and we can go a lot farther. We know what to expect this time around. I think everyone in our clubhouse expects to be playing until the end of October,” he said.

CLOSE FRIENDS

Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash has the Rays in the playoffs for the second time. His close friend and former Rays third base and bench coach Charlie Montoyo is in his second year as manager of the Blue Jays, who last made the playoffs in 2016.

“Pretty special,” Cash said of his relationship with Montoyo.

“I really learned a lot from him being around him. The way he carried himself. His hand print is throughout this organization,” Cash added. “A pretty big impact and a positive one. … When they clinched I talked to him, we face-timed at 1:30 in the morning. I’m so happy for him.”