Opening day has finally arrived after a seemingly endless offseason that leads to renewed optimism of an improved offense that will score enough runs to land the Rays atop the standings that would secure a ticket to the playoffs.
The Rays start the season playing four games against the offensive buzz saw that is the Toronto Blue Jays. The Rays will hand Chris Archer the ball for the opener as he will do his best to lead the Rays to a victorious start to the season.
The series will likely be determined by how well the left handed pitching and reverse split right handed pitchers are able to handle the best offense in league.
Toronto offense against left handed pitching.
Blue Jay offense vs LHP (last three seasons):
Luckily for Archer he pitches with his right hand as the Blue Jays were especially productive against left handed pitching. Two-thirds of the rest of the rotation will not be as fortunate as Matt Moore and Drew Smyly will have to avoid any major damage being done by their top four hitters who have crushed lefties throughout their careers.
The Toronto offense lacks left handed bats as they only have Justin Smoak (switch hitter), Ryan Goins, and Michael Saunders. As would be expected the right handed punch at the top of the lineup is extraordinarily effective against southpaws.
Rays Starters vs RHH (last three seasons):
Chris Archer has made a living carving up right handed hitters, so the Rays will need him to get off to a strong start as the rest of the starters this series will try to limit the damage as they are least effective against right handed hitters.
Jake Odorizzi has been a reverse splits pitcher in his limited time in the majors as he's allowed a .233/.286/.383 .293 wOBA line to left handed hitters. Matt Moore and Drew Smyly as expected would post just below league average lines against RHH (.253/.324/.408 .318 wOBA is league average).
The bullpen will look to play a prominent role in the outcome of the games as they try to assist the starting rotation in reaching the finish line.
Rays Bullpen vs RHH (last three seasons):
Alex Colome, Ryan Webb, Steve Geltz, and Enny Romero have posted strong numbers in their limited exposure at the MLB level and they will be leaned on heavily to limit the runs put on the board by the Blue Jays offense.
The Rays bullpen's newest member in Dana Eveland hasn't seen much action against righties and will be join Xavier Cedeno and Enny Romero as left handers in the pen. Having an abundance of lefties in the bullpen won't likely be helpful this series.
Erasmo Ramirez and Danny Farquhar have shown reverse splits as they rely on their fastball/change up combination that is more effective against opposite handed hitters.
Rays offense against right handed pitching.
Much of the offseason offensive makeover was focused on improving upon their production against right handed pitchers with the additions of Corey Dickerson, Brad Miller, Logan Morrison, and Hang Conger. The Rays will receive their first opportunity to see how effective the additions are as Toronto will throw out four right handed starting pitchers.
Rays Offense vs RHP (last 3 seasons):
|Steven Souza, Jr.||325||12||9.2%||35.1%||0.216||0.298||0.378||0.299||91|
This should be a much improved offense against right handed pitchers especially if Logan Forsythe hits closer to his 2015 against RHP (.273/.353/.375, .324 wOBA, 108 wRC+).
Big Swinging Dickerson will look to translate his numbers from the altitude of Coors Field to sea level at Tropicana Field.
It feels comforting seeing numbers from the catching position that aren't completely embarrassing as we witnessed a combined 501 plate appearances of .181/.223/.267, .217 wOBA, 33 wRC+ production(?) by Rene Rivera, Bobby Wilson, and Luke Maile.
Blue Jays Starters vs LHH (last 3 seasons):
Marcus Stroman has been tough on left handed bats and will look to match Archer pitch for pitch on opening day.
R.A. Dickey's results have been pretty average during his tenure in Toronto. Definitely not at the level of his Cy Young season or what Toronto would likely have expected in return for Travis d'Arnaud and Noah Syndergaard.
J.A. Happ will look to use his Ray Searage magic to be the effective pitcher that appeared in the half season in Pittsburgh where he pitched to a 2.19 FIP over 63.1 innings leading to 2.1 WAR in that time period. Toronto will hope that the surge to over 1 strikeout an inning while lowering walks that led them to signing him to a 3 year $36 million contract.
Aaron Sanchez has struggled against left handed bats in his short time in the majors (small sample size), but he will try to limit the walks as he issues over 5 walks per 9 innings over 66 innings as a starter last season.
The Rays should see opportunities to strike in the final three games of the series and should be capable of putting some runs on the board.
Blue Jays Bullpen vs LHH (last 3 seasons):
|Joe Biagini||Has Not Pitched In MLB|
The back end of the Toronto bullpen looks to be strong with Roberto Osuna, Drew Storen, and Brett Cecil looking to lockdown victories for the Blue Jays. Cecil is especially tough against left handed hitters, but he's not limited to being a LOOGY.
The quality of bullpen arms really falls off a cliff after the top three arms. Jesse Chavez and Gavin Floyd are long men who might see some spot starts this season. Arnold Leon and Ryan Tepera saw their first MLB action last season and Joe Biagini will make his MLB debut if he sees the field before being sent down when Marco Estrada returns from the disabled list.
The Rays start off the season with a bang as they take on the defending AL East Champion Toronto Blue Jays in what should be an exciting series that could see a pitching duel in the opener. Offensive fireworks could flow from both teams.
In the end, getting off to a strong start could propel the Rays in reaching their goal of being the fifth team to win the AL East in the last five seasons.