Opening Day 2016 was a wild one, with Chris Archer's electric stuff setting Rays fans' hair standing instead of the Jays fans to start things off. A few runs later he became his usual self, but no amount of dancing could save this one for the Rays.
Here are my initial thoughts from Opening Day. Full recap to follow.
Chris Archer just needed to settle down
The Rays ace Chris Archer was the first pitcher to strike out twelve batters on Opening Day since King Felix Hernandez in 2007. All twelve of those came after a visit to the mound by Jim Hickey, and came after a rough two innings that saw Archer's pitch count sky rocketing.
Likewise, the ball was launching out of his hand, and leaving it early. The result was too many fastballs way above the zone, but once he settled in the ace was exactly who we knew he was.
Archer just had too much adrenaline to get things going from the start, and it let the Jays creep ahead with three runs.
The Rays got exactly what they were asking for in Logan Morrison
Tampa Bay's decision to release James Loney and eat his $8 million salary meant the team was forgoing the promise of defense for offense. Neither player appears to be elite at that skill as of this Spring, but the intention to pursue offense was clear since the Rays swapped out Nate Karns for Brad Miller and LoMo on the first day of the off-season.
Morrison had several plays on the night where he got to the ball but defense escaped him: a bounce off the top of the glove, a bounce in and out of the mitt's heel. The errors were a clear reminder of what the Rays gave up.
Furthermore, as LoMo was returning to the dugout after giving one a ride to left-center that was easily caught, he heard some chirping and turned around to inquire where it was coming from. And by inquire, I mean he told starter Marcus Stroman that he could shove it.
Stroman responded with a "what the f*** are you talking about" and "I wasn't talking to you" but the exchange was enough to rile up the clubhouse, particularly with an excited LoMo and Tim Beckham on the top steps. It all calmed down very quickly, but it was an early sign of what Logan Morrison should bring to the Rays. Let's call it feistiness and move on.
Read more about LoMo in our season preview here.
Multiple-Inning Relief is difficult
With the game 3-1, the Rays got a full inning out of Enny Romero, and swapped him for Ryan Webb the next frame, and it was Webb who became the first of many relievers the Rays called upon to try going for multiple innings of relief.
There was a warning sign of a fastball called low and away to Encarnacion that shot up to the letters, which he knocked for an easy single. Webb stayed in for Tulo, the next batter, and had the same problem. This time the fastball went high, but also in, giving Tulowitzki a wheelhouse swing opportunity. He pulled it deep for a homerun, 5-1 Blue Jays.
Tampa Bay might have a clear intention to stretch their relievers, but it's not going to work at every turn. The Rays seemed smart to pull Romero after only one inning, as the rookie had much to benefit from in confidence after mowing down the tough Jays offense in his inning of work.
Webb as a veteran should have been able to do more, and eventually got four outs, but it came at a price of what would be two precious runs.
Read More -- The Rays Way: Multiple Inning Relievers
The Rays offense will take time to materialize
While it would have been nice for the new-look offense to come crashing the gates, the best piece of hitting on the night came from Longoria, who squared up a pitch opposite field after pulling two long foul balls. He plated new lead-off hitter Logan Forsythe for the only Rays RBI outside the ninth on the afternoon.
The Rays had plenty of well hit pitches, for the stuff they could get to out of the hand of Marcus Stroman, but defenders Pillar, Tulo, Donaldson and particularly Colabello (the first baseman) were all over the field and retiring runners.
The Rays could have helped themselves more by not swinging on first pitch so often against Stroman, but the aggressive approach is no different than what helped the Rays offense down the stretch last season, and we can likely expect to see more of the same.
Big Swingin' Dickerson
The wheels eventually came off for Stroman in the ninth inning, when a fastball called down was thrown at the letters, like with Webb above. Corey Dickerson didn't miss his chance to show off exactly what the Rays acquired, and thumped one deep to right field.
The Jays called in newly minted closer Osuna, who used high heat and high sliders to fool some Rays hitters who had been used to golfing against Stroman. The two pitches have 14 mph separation, and it put away Miller and Souza nicely.
Kiermaier would not suffer the same fate, and made contact on a softly hit flyball that landed behind the infield. KK then took second base on indifference (in a two run ballgame!?) and he advanced to third, but Hank Conger's shot up the middle was fielded by the closer for the final out.
It would have been easy to blame today's loss on some defensive mishaps, but that distorts the work the Rays did to not only keep this game alive, but to respond to a poor start. The Rays pitching ended the day with 15 strikeouts and the offense with some timely hitting. The team was only two runs shy with a runner on third at the final out.
It's possible to say, at the end of it all, Opening Day came down to defense, and that the Blue Jays had the upper hand, but instead I would offer to say that this was a well fought ballgame where the Rays just couldn't bridge the gap. It was a good game, even if Toronto had the better defense.
And I would also offer: It has yet to be seen whether the Jays defense can save the rest of their starting rotation in the following three games...
Finally, Commissioner Manfred was in attendance for the Rays on this Opening Day 2016, and had wonderful and thoughtful things to say about the Rays. Listen here, and then we'll see you back tomorrow.