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Series Preview: Tampa Bay Rays vs Toronto Blue Jays

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Rays head north of the border to face the Blue Jays.

Jesse Chavez
Jesse Chavez
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The Rays head to Canada, coming off a rough series against the Athletics, to face the Toronto Blue Jays, who were literally roughed up by the Texas Rangers just yesterday.

The Blue Jays have had an unexpected start to the season as they have been carried by (believe it or not) their starting rotation, with an offense that's been similarly effective as the Rays.

Many Blue Jays players are likely facing suspensions, but are unlikely to serve them during this series including Jose Bautista, Josh Donaldson, Kevin Pillar, and Jesse Chavez.

Matchups:

Monday: Drew Smyly vs J.A. Happ

Tuesday: Chris Archer vs Marcus Stroman

Wednesday: Jake Odorizzi vs R.A. Dickey

Can the starting rotation continue to carry the Blue Jays?

After not resigning David Price this offseason the Blue Jays went the route of signing a middle of the rotation arms of Marco Estrada and J.A. Happ. This series the Rays will face J.A. Happ, owner of a 2.05 ERA, their ace, Marcus Stroman, and inconsistent results of knuckleballer R.A. Dickey.

Starting Pitchers Last 3+ Years vs Right Handed Batters:

Player IP K% BB% HR% AVE OBP SLG wOBA ERA FIP
J.A. Happ 361.1 18.8% 7.5% 9.5% 0.250 0.311 0.407 0.315 3.94 4.03
Marcus Stroman 96.2 20.1% 3.9% 7.5% 0.254 0.289 0.329 0.275 3.54 2.73
R.A. Dickey 368.0 18.8% 6.5% 11.7% 0.241 0.303 0.416 0.315 4.06 4.25

Stroman has been really tough against right handed batters. Happ and Dickey have been roughly league average.

Happ has been much improved over the last year and affected by Ray Searage magic. The biggest improvement has been in avoiding homers. Happ is a lefty, so the Rays offense will have its preferred matchup.

Starting Pitchers Last 3+ Years vs Left Handed Batters:

Player IP K% BB% HR% AVE OBP SLG wOBA ERA FIP
J.A. Happ 109.2 22.1% 8.3% 9.8% 0.270 0.333 0.421 0.331 3.53 3.58
Marcus Stroman 117.0 19.4% 7.2% 8.4% 0.221 0.281 0.333 0.274 3.23 3.36
R.A. Dickey 334.2 15.8% 8.7% 10.4% 0.237 0.309 0.403 0.313 3.87 4.63

Stroman is equally tough against lefties where he allows a lower average, but many more extra base hits.

Happ has allowed fewer runs against lefties with a higher wOBA, but seems to be mostly be an elevated .334 BABIP against lefties.

Who's going to help Osuna in the bullpen?

Going into the season the Blue Jays bullpen looked like a real strength after acquiring Drew Storen from the Nationals. The starting pitching has put them in position to win games, but the Blue Jays lead the league with 13 losses.

Brett Cecil was placed on the disabled list this past weekend and Storen has really struggled. Storen is sporting a 8.25 ERA. This leaves the Blue Jays with thin backend bullpen depth.

Relievers Last 3+ Years vs Right Handed Batters:

Player IP K% BB% HR% AVE OBP SLG wOBA ERA FIP
Roberto Osuna 40.1 29.7% 6.5% 6.1% 0.181 0.240 0.305 0.238 2.23 2.63
Drew Storen 103.0 25.7% 5.3% 6.1% 0.214 0.271 0.297 0.255 3.15 2.64
Jesse Chavez 172.2 24.2% 7.1% 9.2% 0.235 0.296 0.358 0.288 3.75 3.31
Gavin Floyd 56.1 19.7% 3.9% 10.5% 0.245 0.297 0.393 0.301 3.04 3.60
Joe Biagini 7.1 13.3% 10.0% 0.0% 0.222 0.300 0.259 0.258 1.23 3.21
Chad Girodo 2.0 0.0% 0.0% 50.0% 0.286 0.375 0.714 0.458 4.50 11.07
Dustin Antolin Has not pitched in MLB

The Blue Jays are down to four options that have much MLB experience, but in their favor, Jesse Chavez and Gavin Floyd have been successful in their transitions to the bullpen.

The rotation has averaged just over 6.5 innings a game, and that has limited the exposure to the weak arms in the pen.

Relievers Last 3+ Years vs Left Handed Batters:

Player IP K% BB% HR% AVE OBP SLG wOBA ERA FIP
Roberto Osuna 45.1 26.3% 6.2% 9.8% 0.196 0.246 0.365 0.257 2.58 3.21
Drew Storen 82.0 20.9% 7.4% 11.4% 0.272 0.336 0.422 0.327 3.73 3.93
Jesse Chavez 201.0 19.1% 8.1% 11.6% 0.267 0.334 0.408 0.325 3.85 4.18
Gavin Floyd 53.2 22.4% 10.5% 14.0% 0.241 0.326 0.397 0.320 3.19 4.05
Joe Biagini 4.0 25.0% 15.0% 0.0% 0.235 0.350 0.313 0.299 0.00 2.82
Chad Girodo 4.0 28.6% 0.0% 0.0% 0.071 0.071 0.071 0.063 0.00 1.07
Dustin Antolin Has not pitched in MLB

Left handed batters have been much more successful against their four relievers with major league experience. Osuna is still a really tough assignment for lefties, but they have hit for more damage.

Chad Girodo is the only lefty in the bullpen.

Will the TOR bats that led the league in runs last season wake up?

Last year this lineup put 891 runs on the board (5.50 runs per game) and this year they have struggled in scoring only 161 through their first 39 games (4.13 runs per game). The Blue Jays have hit .238/.319/.398, .315 wOBA, 97 wRC+.

Josh Donaldson (.258/.364/.510, .376 wOBA, 140 wRC+) has been aided by Michael Saunders (.328/.393/.541, .402 wOBA, 159 wRC+) and Justin Smoak (.307/.435/.480, .400 wOBA, 158 wRC+) this season. Jose Bautista has been good, but not great (.217/.360/.442, .352 wOBA, 123 wRC+).

Troy Tulowtizki (.200/.290/.407, .302, 88 wRC+) has continued to struggle as the Blue Jays haven't gotten what they were expecting since they acquired him from the Rockies last season. He has hit eight homers.

Russell Martin has been one of the worst position players this season (.168/.239/.178, .198 wOBA, 14 wRC+).

This offense has the pieces to go off at any time and let's hope the brawl in Texas didn't ignite their offense.

Batters Last 3+ Years vs Right Handed Pitchers:

Player PA HR SB BB% K% AVE OBP SLG wOBA wRC+
Michael Saunders 633 18 16 10.7% 24.2% 0.265 0.342 0.440 0.340 119
Josh Donaldson 1683 66 18 10.4% 19.4% 0.273 0.353 0.466 0.357 129
Jose Bautista 1617 86 15 15.1% 16.0% 0.258 0.375 0.511 0.382 144
Edwin Encarnacion 1557 98 10 11.6% 14.6% 0.270 0.358 0.546 0.386 146
Troy Tulowitzki 1196 54 2 9.4% 19.7% 0.287 0.357 0.494 0.380 122
Russell Martin 1237 42 13 9.9% 21.1% 0.245 0.335 0.416 0.331 111
Justin Smoak 870 40 0 12.2% 25.2% 0.238 0.336 0.450 0.344 120
Kevin Pillar 726 14 21 3.7% 16.1% 0.264 0.299 0.392 0.301 87
Ryan Goins 646 8 3 6.7% 19.5% 0.233 0.284 0.333 0.273 68
Ezequiel Carrera 270 2 10 5.6% 21.9% 0.259 0.311 0.342 0.288 80
Darwin Barney 639 8 6 5.8% 11.7% 0.209 0.263 0.297 0.249 52
Josh Thole 285 1 0 9.1% 17.9% 0.200 0.277 0.247 0.243 48
Andy Burns 2 0 0 0.0% 100.0% 0.000 0.000 0.000 0.000 -100

For all their offensive struggles this year you still have to avoid the middle of the lineup in Donaldson, Bautista, and Encarnacion as they can put a crooked number on the board quickly. Saunders has been productive when healthy and he's stayed healthy to this point.

If Tulowitzki and Martin are able to turn it around this offense could be the juggernaut we saw last season.

Batters Last 3+ Years vs Left Handed Pitchers:

Player PA HR SB BB% K% AVE OBP SLG wOBA wRC+
Michael Saunders 269 7 1 11.2% 26.4% 0.247 0.330 0.396 0.322 106
Josh Donaldson 567 37 4 12.9% 14.5% 0.310 0.402 0.636 0.438 186
Jose Bautista 422 23 7 16.6% 14.0% 0.274 0.396 0.527 0.397 155
Edwin Encarnacion 398 18 2 13.8% 13.3% 0.265 0.369 0.496 0.374 138
Troy Tulowitzki 380 17 1 12.9% 15.8% 0.327 0.421 0.548 0.413 152
Russell Martin 349 7 4 16.0% 20.1% 0.241 0.371 0.357 0.329 109
Justin Smoak 347 8 1 7.8% 23.1% 0.214 0.277 0.333 0.273 72
Kevin Pillar 291 5 9 4.5% 15.8% 0.283 0.321 0.401 0.315 97
Ryan Goins 204 2 0 3.9% 24.5% 0.199 0.235 0.285 0.230 37
Ezequiel Carrera 63 2 1 4.8% 23.8% 0.339 0.381 0.475 0.375 141
Darwin Barney 266 5 1 7.1% 13.5% 0.266 0.327 0.398 0.318 101
Josh Thole 90 1 0 7.8% 20.0% 0.225 0.287 0.288 0.262 60
Andy Burns 2 0 0 0.0% 0.0% 0.000 0.500 0.000 0.361 130

The biggest surprise has been the lack of production against left handed pitchers this season. The Blue Jays have only hit .252/.326/.398, .318 wOBA, 100 wRC+ after hitting .278/.354/.463, .354 wOBA, 124 wRC+ last year.

Smyly will have to avoid the middle of the lineup and his nemesis Saunders who is three for six with two homers this season against the southpaw.

TB needs to pounce on the Blue Jays while they're struggling

The Rays need to take advantage of the Blue Jays while they aren't hitting the ball like they are capable of. The Rays throw who should be their three best pitchers against this series and get to face the only lefty in the Blue Jays rotation and Dickey. Winning games in the division is huge if they want to stay within reach of first place.

It would be nice if the suspensions that are coming would see their big bats miss this series, but I would expect them to appeal their suspensions. The Rays could miss one of them if one chooses to accept their penalty thereby staggering the suspensions and not be hit all at once.

Yesterday was a frustrating day, but the Rays get to get back on the field and have the opportunity to take a series from a divisional foe and put the loss behind them.