(Photo credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports)
The Toronto Blue Jays are in a tight fight for a playoff berth, and their offense has gone absent at the worst time.
The visiting New York Yankees will shoot for a three-game sweep of the Blue Jays on Thursday night.
The Yankees (81-77) did not allow a run while winning the first two games ofthe series as the Blue Jays (87-71) try to clinch a playoff spot. New York was officially eliminated from contention on Sunday.
The Blue Jays occupy the second of three AL wild-card spots, but by dropping the first two games of a six-game, regular-season-ending homestand, they allowed the race to grow tighter. The Houston Astros (87-72) sit just a half-game behind Toronto, and the Seattle Mariners (85-73) are two games back of the Blue Jays.
"Whenever you're playing at this time of year, or into the postseason, you're facing really good pitching," Blue Jays manager John Schneider said. "There are ways to take advantage of that, whether it be get on base and use the running game like we did in Tampa (in winning two of three from the Tampa Bay Rays in St. Petersburg, Fla.), string some hits together, or try to do some damage.
"There were some good at-bats (on Wednesday) ... a couple balls that were just missed, a couple of deep counts and just didn't hit the pitch that we should."
The games against the Yankees, including a two-hitter fired by New York's Gerrit Cole in a 6-0 win on Wednesday, have added to the feeling that the Blue Jays have trouble dealing with top starters like those they would face in the postseason.
"You have to really take advantage of mistakes is the biggest thing," Schneider said. "There are nights when you do it, there are nights when you don't. The last two nights were the latter."
Cole struck out five without issuing a walk. Toronto's only hits were a double and a single, both from Brandon Belt.
The Yankees improved to 16-8 in September.
"This obviously hasn't been the season we wanted, but these guys have continued to play and show up with the right energy and focus," New York manager Aaron Boone said.
Cole said that he tried to approach his 300th career start as if it were a playoff game. He also earned a win over the Blue Jays last week in New York as the Yankees salvaged the finale of the three-game series.
"Knowing that this is back-to-back outings against a club that's fighting for a playoff position and obviously a formidable offense with a lot of All-Stars, I wasn't going to come in here and not be on it," Cole said.
Cole is the leading contender to win the American League Cy Young Award. His second shutout of the season left him at 15-4 with a 2.63 ERA this season. His other shutout this season came on April 16 against the Minnesota Twins, also a two-hitter.
Aaron Judge, who was rested in the series opener on Tuesday, hit a pair of two-run home runs for the Yankees on Wednesday to give him 37 long balls for the season.
In his past six games at Toronto, Judge has seven home runs and 13 RBIs. In 106 career games against the Blue Jays, he is batting .296 (112-for-378) with 34 homers and 70 RBIs.
The Yankees are scheduled to start right-hander Luke Weaver (3-5, 6.47 ERA) in the series finale. He has never faced the Blue Jays.
The Blue Jays will go with right-hander Chris Bassitt (15-8, 3.74 ERA). In two career starts against the Yankees, Bassitt is 0-0 with a 1.38 ERA. He fired seven shutout innings against New York on May 17 in a game the host Blue Jays won 3-0 in 10 innings.
--Field Level Media