Rays try to stay hot, commence set against Jays

The Tampa Bay Rays were one of the hottest teams heading into the All-Star break. They'll try to start their second half off on the right foot Friday when they begin a three-game set with the disappointing Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Centre.

Tampa won 17 of 21 before the break, while posting an MLB-best 2.03 ERA over that span. The Rays' strong play over that time has vaulted them to the top of the AL wild card standings and has seen them cut their AL East deficit from seven to 2 1/2 games.

A big key behind the Rays' recent surge has been reigning AL Cy Young Award winner David Price, who, although he lost his last time out has won two of his last three starts. Price went the distance in a loss to Houston last Friday and gave up just two runs, but still fell to 3-5 on the year to go along with a 3.94 ERA.

Remarkably, Price has thrown two straight complete games, allowing only three earned runs while striking out 18 in 25 innings since spending a month on the disabled list.

"There's never been a time in my life where I've been that efficient," Price said. "I've always really considered myself a power pitcher that wants to get strikeouts, and to be able to go deep in games, you have to forget about strikeouts. I still know I can strike people out. I'll take more innings than strikeouts any day."

Overall, the Rays have had 15 consecutive quality starts. According to Elias, it's the longest streak in MLB since the A's had 18 in a row in 2010.

Toronto, meanwhile, has been a major disappointment this season and starts its second half four games under .500 at 45-49.

"We know it's not going to be easy, because the division is so tough," shortstop Jose Reyes said. "But if we play consistent baseball and take it one game at a time, I think we'll be fine. We need to turn it around right away, because after the All-Star break, the season is going to go quick."

Despite an offseason that saw them acquire Reyes, reigning NL Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey, outfielder Melky Cabrera, righty Josh Johnson and left- hander Mark Buehrle among others, the Jays headed into the break trailing the Boston Red Sox by 11 1/2 games in the division and are 8 1/2 games back of the Rays in the wild card.

On Friday, Toronto will hand the ball to righty Esmil Rogers, who is 3-4 with a 3.64 ERA. Rogers pitched well his last time out on July 10 in Cleveland, but did not get a decision, despite allowing just a run and four hits in six innings of a 5-4 win.

Rogers lost to the Rays earlier in the year in his only other start against them.

Toronto has split its 10 matchups with the Rays this season.