Blue Jays feeling pressure ahead of finale vs. Astros

The Toronto Blue Jays will aim to split their four-game series with the Houston Astros when they play their final home game before the All-Star break Thursday afternoon.

The Astros are looking for the series win after taking the third game 9-2 on Wednesday. They are 4-2 on a 10-game road trip. The Blue Jays have dropped to 3-4 on their eight-game homestand.

The Blue Jays will embark on a nine-game road trip starting Friday night against the Seattle Mariners, with the trek taking them into the break.

The Astros will complete their trip with a three-game series against the Minnesota Twins this weekend.

The pressure is on the Blue Jays, whose playoff aspirations are waning. Toronto sits in last place in the American League East and is eight games out of the last AL wild-card position.

“We came in (to the season) with the mentality that we’re aiming to get to and win the World Series,” said left-hander Yusei Kikuchi, who allowed two runs in 5 2/3 innings on Wednesday. “It’s tough, just thinking about that. But all we can do is prepare and just be ready every game that we’re out there.”

Toronto is scheduled to start right-hander Chris Bassitt (7-6, 3.24 ERA) on Thursday. He is 5-4 with a 3.97 ERA in 14 career games (13 starts) against the Astros. Bassitt took a loss at Houston on April 3 after allowing four runs on nine hits in 4 1/3 innings.

Houston is scheduled to start left-hander Framber Valdez (6-5, 4.11). He is 1-3 with a 4.11 ERA in five career starts against the Blue Jays. He shined in a win against Toronto on April 2, firing 7 2/3 shutout innings.

Bassitt must figure out a way to deal with Yordan Alvarez in the series finale. Alvarez hit his third homer of the series and his 19th of the season on Wednesday while adding a pair of RBI doubles and an intentional walk.

In his past 26 games, Alvarez is batting .371 (36-for-97) with 10 doubles, a triple, 10 home runs and 27 RBIs.

In his 13 career games at Toronto, he is batting .333 (15-for-45) with seven home runs and 16 RBIs.

“Yordan is really good, obviously,” Blue Jays manager John Schneider said. “He’s hitting balls all over the place.”

Alvarez gave the Astros a scare in the first inning on Wednesday when he twisted his left ankle on an awkward swing while grounding out.

“I just got tangled up with my feet,” Alvarez said through an interpreter. “Right now it’s a little bit tight. I think what helped me is that I use high cleats. They’re tight around the ankle so they didn’t allow it to rotate too much.”

Houston manager Joe Espada said, “I’m holding my breath, then all of a sudden he goes and has another stellar performance.”

Astros catcher Yainer Diaz added three RBIs on Wednesday while going 3-for-4 with a walk.

In his six games on the road trip, he is 10-for-27 (.370) with two doubles and four RBIs.

Toronto’s Vladimir Guerrero Jr. will take his season-best, nine-game hitting streak into Thursday after going 1-for-4 with a single. He is 17-for-38 (.447) with six doubles, five home runs and 19 RBIs during the streak.

Toronto put Justin Turner on the paternity list on Wednesday and recalled Steward Berroa from Triple-A Buffalo.

Blue Jays closer Jordan Romano underwent arthroscopic surgery for an impingement in his right elbow and will not throw for at least six weeks.

Houston right-hander Justin Verlander is tossing a ball every other day as he deals with a neck ailment. There is no timetable for the three-time Cy Young Award winner to get back on a major league mound.

–Field Level Media