(SportsNetwork.com) - The Toronto Blue Jays will try to right the ship Friday night when they enter Tropicana Field to kick off a three-game set with the Tampa Bay Rays.
Toronto shared the American League East lead with Baltimore just over a week ago and held a six-game lead as recently as June 6. But while the Orioles have continued stringing together wins, the Blue Jays have lost six of their last seven.
They got a much needed day off Thursday after coughing up a pair of leads in an 8-7 loss to the Angels a day earlier. Reliever Aaron Loup served up the go- ahead homer to Albert Pujols in the seventh inning, breaking Loup's streak of 59 straight relief appearances without giving up a homer.
"We (gave) away a good opportunity," manager John Gibbons said. "We had the lead, coughed it up, took a slim lead. It was disappointing, it really was."
Starter Marcus Stroman was chased after yielding six runs (five earned) in only 3 2/3 innings.
Meanwhile, Tampa Bay had won eight of nine on the road before returning home to face Kansas City for a three-game set this week. However, the Rays lost that series after the Royals rallied for a 5-4 victory on Wednesday.
Rays right fielder Kevin Kiermaier belted his first career grand slam in the fourth inning to erase a two-run deficit. However, that was also the last time Tampa Bay scored in the game. In the top of the ninth, reliever Kirby Yates gave up the decisive three-run homer to All-Star Salvador Perez.
Tampa Bay was just 3-for-18 with runners in scoring position during the three-game series, including 1-for-9 on Wednesday.
"I understand we lost by a run on a three-run homer in the ninth inning," manager Joe Maddon said. "But we left a lot of chicken on the bone and you just can't do that stuff."
Maddon will hand the ball to Chris Archer to start Friday's series opener. The right-hander is coming off his deepest outing of the season at Detroit on Saturday, as he went 8 1/3 innings and gave up two runs on six hits to earn his fifth win.
"It was my best game so far (this season), but there is room to grow," he said. "I'm going to continue to execute pitches better."
Archer has thrown seven or more innings in each of his last three starts.
Taking the mound for Toronto is veteran southpaw Mark Buehrle, who has lost his last five decisions despite a 3.60 ERA over that span. Buehrle's last win was back on June 1, although he is 10-1 when the Blue Jays give him two or more runs of support.
Toronto has won five of the seven head-to-head meetings between these two teams this season. This marks the final series before the All-Star break.