MLB

Preview: Alex Cobb returns as Rays close out vs. Blue Jays

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Toronto's powerful bats were supposed to lead the Blue Jays in 2017; but, with 36 games left, the best the offense can do is lead the Jays out of last place in the American League East.

The Blue Jays belted six home runs Wednesday in a 7-6 victory against the Rays -- their most in any game since 2012 -- and the six homer hitters matched a franchise record.

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With a win in Thursday's series finale, Toronto would pull into a virtual tie with Tampa Bay after an extended stay alone in the cellar.

"We have a good offense," said Toronto outfielder Steve Pearce, who had a double and home run Wednesday. "We were able to put it together (Wednesday) and hit some homers and get some runners on base. It's just the way it happens."

That helped offset a pedestrian start by Marcus Stroman on Wednesday, and Toronto hopes for a solid showing Thursday by left-hander J.A. Happ (6-9, 3.90 ERA).

Happ, who was hit by a line drive in the head in a 2013 game at Tropicana Field, has a 3-3 record and 5.08 ERA against the Rays. His last outing against the Rays wasn't sharp; he lasted 2 2/3 innings, with six hits and three runs, in a Toronto victory last September.

The Rays, who had pieced together back-to-back wins before Wednesday, will turn to right-hander Alex Cobb, who will be activated off the disabled list Thursday.

Cobb (9-8, 3.80) is 3-3 with a 3.56 ERA in seven starts against the Blue Jays, with a 3.14 ERA in 55 starts at Tropicana Field. His last outing against Toronto was a hard-luck loss in May, giving up two runs in eight innings.

The Rays had struggled mightily at the plate, scoring 24 runs in 14 contests before their current four-game stretch, which has seen 21 runs in four contests. That Tampa Bay can get back to the kind of offense that put them in wild-card contention well past the All-Star break is encouraging, even if it comes in another difficult loss.

"Very, very impressed by the offense," Rays manager Kevin Cash said of the six-run outburst Wednesday. "That's a big positive pull from it, but we have to keep the ball in the ballpark. … I know the pitchers have been on a good run, but tonight was probably frustrating because we get down … the offense deserves a ton of credit for fighting back in there and tying it up."

Tampa Bay is four games out of the wild card -- one game ahead of Toronto -- but there are also five teams between them and that postseason spot, a difficult logjam to navigate in the final 34 games of the season.