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Rays vs Jays Preview: At .500 or under .500 for April?

That is the question

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at Toronto Blue Jays John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

The Rays and Jays have split the first two games of their three-game set, leaving Sunday’s showdown as the rubber match. As Adam noted in yesterday’s preview, a win for the Rays would deliver them their first road series win of the season. A win would also bring the team back up to .500, the running goal for April in what was bound to be a tough month for the Rays.

The two teams will square off at 1:07 EST (you have to love those extra two minutes our friends north of the border have for their own anthem), and it will be a battle of top-tier pitchers: Chris Archer for the Rays and Aaron Sanchez for the Jays.

Starting Pitchers

Chris Archer

Archer is coming off one of his stranger outings of 2017. His last time out came in Baltimore, and he looked solid to start, with four strikeouts and just one run over his first five innings. After being victimized by the short fences of Camden Yards on back-to-back at bats in the sixth, Kevin Cash decided to send the Rays’ ace back out to the mound for the seventh in a 3-3 game, a decision that resulted in a two-run Adam Jones home run and the first loss of the season for Archer.

The 28-year-old righty will look to bounce back against the team, Toronto, against whom he had his best 2017 outing. On April 8, in his second start of the season, Archer fired seven and two-thirds innings of two-run ball, striking out eight and allowing just five hits and three walks. That was a Jays lineup that actually had Josh Donaldson and Troy Tulowitzki, two big bats that are currently on the DL. The Jays, thanks in part to those injuries, have been truly dreadful offensively this season, ranking 27th in wRC+ this season, and they’ve been even worse (28th) against righties.

Aaron Sanchez

Sanchez has been the Jays’ best pitcher over the past two seasons, but, in true 2017 Blue Jays form, has been out since April 14 with a finger injury. Sanchez has made just two starts this season, and the Rays were his opponent in one of them. Sanchez had an outstanding first outing against the Rays on April 8, going seven innings and allowing just one run on four hits and three walks, while striking out six.

When he is on, Sanchez relies heavily on ground balls for outs, eschewing from strikeouts in order to tempt hitters into weak contact. His soft hit ball rate (20.7 percent) ranked 14th in 2016, and his ground ball rate (54.4 percent) ranked fifth - that’s a great combo.

Sanchez throws his fastball nearly 75 percent of the time, using its heavy downward movement to induce all that soft, ground ball output. He’s especially tough on righties, who possess just a .234 wOBA for his career (compared to .316 for lefties). The Rays will address this by starting five lefties on Sunday.

Starting Lineups

Today’s Lineup

Toronto Blue Jays Tampa Bay Rays
Toronto Blue Jays Tampa Bay Rays
Kevin Pillar - CF Corey Dickerson - LF
Jose Bautista - RF Kevin Kiermaier - CF
Kendrys Morales - DH Evan Logoria - 3B
Justin Smoak - 1B Brad Miller - 2B
Russell Martin - C Rickie Weeks - DH
Steve Pearce - LF Logan Morrison - 1B
Devon Travis - 2B Derek Norris - C
Ryan Goins - SS Shane Peterson - RF
Darwin Barney - 3B Daniel Robertson - SS
Aaron Sanchez - RHP Chris Archer - RHP