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Game Preview (9/2) at Toronto

Rays (55-80) at Toronto (66-67)
7:07;  SkyDome (Screw that corporate label)

Well, all  I have to say is: Thank god that is  over. The Rays hit the road in typical FIRST HALF  fashion, getting swept by Boston. I'm not one to say  this team should've taken that game, or whatever, I let the chips fall where they may, but I guarantee you, we could've easily walked away with one win, if not more.

Anyways, we leave the sleazy open-air bar that is Fenway Park for the cavernous SkyDome (screw that corporate label). The Rays come in to face a Blue Jays team that has lost 10 of their last 13 games to drop one game under .500 at 66-67. The Jays are virtually out of any sort of playoff contention, and will be shooting for .500 by the final series of the season. The Jays last  played the Rays, at SkyDome (screw that corporate label) in the four game series immediatly after the All-Star Break, in which the Rays took 3 of 4 to ignite their second half run. The only loss came Friday night (the second game) and that was  only because of Hideo Nomo  and his amazing sucking action. He was promptly let out to pasture after that game. Toronto is 8-5 against the Rays thisseason, including taking 2 of 3 in the season-opening series.

Rays-LH Mark "Lurch" Hendrickson (8-7, 6.27)
TOR-LH Scott Downs (2-3, 4.09)

BREAKDOWN: It's Lurch's turn in the rotation,  and he delivered another one of his once-in-a-blue-moon dominating starts when we last saw him Sunday vs. Anaheim. Lurch allowed one run  in 7.2 IP to pick up his  team-leading eighth victory of the season, and is the only Rays starter with a winning record. His  four game winning streak, a career,  and  personal best, dates back to July 26th, when he recieved a  no-decisionin a loss to Boston. Besides his last two starts, and great start in that Sunday game vs. Kansas City, Lurch has  actually not been very good during the non-losing streak. Three other times, he  has  surrendered four earned runs, surrendering five the other. Nonetheless, he did  finish August with a 4.55 ERA, reaching first two months-type of okayness. Anyways, Lurch is 1-1 with a 6.60 ERA vs. his former team, last facing them July 16th when he went 5.1 IP, giving up seven hits, five runs (four earned), on three walks  and three strikeouts. Against Lurch  this season, Alex Rios is 4 for 8 with two runs scored, two doubles, one triple, and three RBI. Shea Hillenbrand is 4 for 8 with two runs scored, two doubles, and an RBI.

Taking the mound for the Jays islefty Scott Downs. After Boston started four leftys in the previous series, the Rays will face Downs, their first lefty opponent since Sunday against Anaheim, when they face Jarrod Washburn. Downs comes in very hot, as he went 2-1 with a 2.79 ERA that month, and Downs has thrown at least six innings the last four times  he has stepped on the rubber. What's more,  he has allowed three earned runs or less. In his last start against the Indians, Downs went six innings, giving up only three hits and an  unearned run, while walking two and striking out six. He faced the Rays twice, albeit both times in relief, giving up two earned runs in 0.2 innings one time, and going two scoreless frames in the other. MostRayshave faced Downsonce, and no one has seen  him more than twice (Nick Green walked and singled in two plate appearences). Carl Crawford and Joey Gathright are the other two players with hits against Downs this season.

BOTTOM LINE:You can be pretty damn sure the Rays wanted to get out of Boston very quickly, so a trip north of the border, anything away from Beantown, might be just  what they need. The bottom line is, the Rays send out a  lineup that hasn't seen very much of the opposing starter, who happens  to be extremely hot as of late. Add the fact that the Rays are sending out their worst starter againsthis former teammates, and  thisis asure clunker, right?

Not so fast my friend. While all of thisistrue, the SkyDome (screw the corporate label) has some fond memories for the Rays, as they  began their hot streak there, as people were saying the Rays would be lucky to take one of a four game series, because they were on the road. Well, the Rays ended up taking three, and  the rest is history. So the Rays CAN win this game, but will they?

They don't have it easy Saturday  or  Sunday, facing Josh Towers and David Bush, respectively, and Scott Downs may actually be the easiest draw. so what  part of the Blue Jays' wall is soggy enough to punch a hole through? The bullpen? Certainly not. The difference between this year and last is simply the bullpen not blowing games, ala the same situation in Cleveland. So it looks like the Rays will have to  aim their punch for the Blue Jays' anemic offense, and even Hendrickson should be able to  do that. If Hendrickson  canbridge  the gap to Orvella-JoeBo-Baez, we have a shot.  we need to get an early lead, but if the Blue Jays chase Hendrickson early, you can fuhgedda 'bout it.

The lineups should feature Toby at catcher,  and an infield of (in no particular order) Perez-Green-Lugo-Cantu, and an outfield of Crawford-Hollins-Gomes. The Dh is  an interesting question. The possibility exists that  Lou will sit Huff to spark him, or just plain give him the day off. In  that case, you can expect Alex Gonzalez/Nick Green/Jorge Cantu to be the DH, but if Aubrey Huff is the DH,  well, then  Aubrey Huff is the DH. Keep in mind too, Huff and Gomes are (sadly for us) interchangable.

PREDICTION: Toronto 5, Rays 4