Hovering around .500 and double-digit games behind the American League East-leading Orioles is not how the Blue Jays and Rays envisioned entering September when the 2014 season began.
Wednesday's middle game at Tropicana Field, however, represents a head-to-head look at pieces who could very well be instrumental for September 2015.
Right-handers Marcus Stroman, 23, and Chris Archer, 25, will face each other for the first time, as the Blue Jays sit 5 1/2 games and the Rays 9 1/2 out of a Wild Card spot.
For both players, this start will be their second against the same team in three turns through the rotation. The Rays lit up Stroman for six runs (five earned) in five innings on Aug. 22, a Tampa Bay blowout win, while Archer quieted the Toronto bats for seven innings of one-run ball two days later.
The pitchers went in opposite directions in their only outings since. First, Stroman held the Red Sox to a lone earned run in 7 2/3 innings on Wednesday.
"He's a strong kid," manager John Gibbons said of Stroman, a first-round Draft pick in 2012. "He's coming out of college, he's still a youngster, but he has some innings in the Minor Leagues, too. It crosses your mind when he has a couple of outings when he struggles.
"Is he tired out a little bit, running out of gas? Who knows where it goes from here, but he's put together pretty good. Strong guy, low center of gravity. I don't think that will be a problem with him."
Facing the same team two days after Stroman, Archer yielded eight runs (seven earned) in four innings against the Red Sox. That was a sharp contrast to the way he pitched the rest of the month (1.99 ERA, 1.17 WHIP).
Archer said he feels better heading into this month than he did last September, when he had a 4.78 ERA and didn't make it through five innings in four of his six outings.
"I feel better, which allows me to trust myself even more than I did last year," Archer said. "What I'm talking about right now is physically, I feel not as worn down. 'Stronger' might not be the word, but just not as worn out as I was last year."
Archer has found success against the Blue Jays since breaking into the Majors in 2012. He owns a 3.75 ERA while striking out 27 batters in 24 innings across four career starts against Toronto. Stroman's only start against Tampa was the one a week and a half ago.
Blue Jays: No. 1 prospect Norris among callups
If the Blue Jays' clubhouse felt a little tighter than normal on Tuesday, it's probably because there were an extra 10 bodies -- seven promoted Minor Leaguers and three players activated from the disabled list -- showing up for work for the team's first game since rosters expanded to 40 players on Monday.
Among them is 21-year-old lefty Daniel Norris, the club's No. 1 prospect, according to MLB.com. He started the season with Class A Advanced Dunedin, but he made his way to Triple-A Buffalo by mid-August.
Across three levels, Norris posted a 2.53 ERA and 1.11 WHIP while striking out 11.8 batters per nine innings. Norris -- a starter by trade -- will likely be used out of the bullpen.
"The guys we brought in here on the pitching side of it, they're here to help us," Gibbons said.
Rays: Geltz sees first action since '12
Steve Geltz's Rays debut on Monday didn't go the way he would have liked -- he blew a save against the Red Sox -- but he was happy with the type of situation the coaches trusted him with: late-game and high-leverage.
"It's my job," said Geltz, who is among the club's recent callups and made a two-game cameo with the Angels in August 2012. "I shouldn't expect to pitch in any situation other than what they tell me. I'm not going to say, 'Hey, I need to pitch in this ...' No. You can pitch me up 10-0, or losing 10-0, or if it's 1-1."
Tuesday, it was a 5-2 deficit when Geltz entered in the fourth. He tossed a scoreless inning with three strikeouts and a walk. The back-to-back days of work appear to reflect manager Joe Maddon's strategy regarding recently promoted personnel.
"Once you get them absorbed, then they can really help you," Maddon said. "If a guy comes up and sits around for four or five days, he feels like he's on the periphery all the time, really not part of this. So then all of a sudden, you ask him in a crucial moment to come on in the game, and the guy hasn't pitched -- that's just really a bad way to do business, I think."
• Blue Jays third baseman Brett Lawrie, who has been on the disabled list for nearly a month with a strained oblique, is officially done for the season. The club placed him on the 60-day disabled list on Tuesday to open up a spot on the 40-man roster for Toronto's bevy of September callups.
• Tampa Bay center fielder Desmond Jennings was not in the lineup on Tuesday for the fifth straight game due to a sore left knee.
Tim Healey is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.