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Series Preview: The Blue Jays Come To Town

MLB: New York Yankees at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Tampa Bay Rays are back to .500 at 15-15 after taking three of four against the Miami Marlins including two without Evan Longoria in the lineup. Tonight the Rays return to divisional play as they take on the Toronto Blue Jays for the third time this season. The Rays have won four of the seven games in the season series.

The Blue Jays lost two of three against the New York Yankees since we last saw them play the Rays last weekend. Not a lot has changed besides Steve Pearce breaking out of a season long slump in New York and Marcus Stroman experiencing tightness in his armpit, causing him to leave his start in the third inning.

The Matchups:

Friday 7:10 PM: Francisco Liriano vs Chris Archer

Saturday 4:10 PM: Marco Estrada vs Jake Odorizzi

Sunday 1:10 PM: Mat Latos vs Alex Cobb

Update: Mat Latos has been DFA’d by the Blue Jays.

The Blue Jays rotation isn’t quite what they had hoped for a month into the season.

In their last four games their starting pitchers have three games of four innnings or fewer and totaling only 14 innings. Starters J.A. Happ and Aaron Sanchez are on the disabled list. Marcus Stroman was removed after three innings in his last start. Their depth is has been severely tested.

Francisco Liriano vs the Rays round three is upon us. The Rays knocked knocked him out after 0.1 inning in his first start of the year after he walked four and allowed five earned runs. Round two went to Liriano, however. Once again the Rays were able to drive up the pitch count by drawing four walks, but this time he limited the damage to just one run. Despite getting rocked in his first start he only has a 3.97 ERA and 3.53 FIP through five starts.

Marco Estrada’s first start against the Rays went in favor of the Rays. They knocked him out after five innings. He allowed five runs including three homers. In his other five starts he has only allowed five total runs leading to a 2.43 ERA and 2.93 FIP. Despite allowing three homers to the Rays he’s only allowed a 6.5% HR/FB rate on the season.

Mat Latos is what your starting depth looks like when you don’t have guys on the farm to step in when one of your pitchers goes down. In three starts he’s given them 15 innings and allowed 11 runs including five homers. In his last start he gave up seven runs in four innings and allowed four homers to the Yankees.

The Blue Jays bullpen has been worked hard.

The Blue Jays have thrown two more innings of relief than the Rays have. They also have played two fewer games. They’ve combined for a 4.81 ERA and 4.29 FIP.

The Blue Jays are fortunate to be entering the series coming off a day of rest. In the previous four days they had to cover 19 innings. In the last week they have thrown 36 innings.

Due to the workload and uncertainty in the rotation they have been running a eight man bullpen to help alleviate the damage done from the workload.

Joe Smith has been their most effective reliever of the year. Roberto Osuna has allowed five runs in his nine innings of work since coming off the disabled list. Joe Biagini has been very effective with a heavy workload.

The Blue Jays are tied with the Red Sox for third fewest runs scored in the American League.

The Blue Jays offense hasn’t been good. As a team they are hitting .235/.301/.369 and put up a 84 wRC+. They have only scored 107 runs (3.82 per game).

Injuries to Josh Donaldson and Troy Tulowitzki have significantly affected the effectiveness of the offense. Kevin Pillar has been the only true bright spot as he leads the team in most offensive categories with a .302/.347/.497 and 132 wRC+ line. He’s even tied for the team lead in home runs at four.

Russell Martin and Justin Smoak have been posted wRC+ of 110 and 108 respectively. They have been the only other offensive contributors over 100 with more than 40 plate appearances.

Devon Travis has had a tremendous start to his career at the plate when he has been healthy. This year he’s been able to stay on the field, but his .157/.211/.236 line and 19 wRC+ makes him jealous of a typical Rays catcher line.

Steve Pearce had himself a series in New York to break out of a season long slump. Three home runs in the series have brought his season line to .230/.277/.393 and 83 wRC+.

The Rays have seven straight games against teams that are still stuck in single digit wins on the year.

The Blue Jays and Royals both have nine wins on the season. They are also the only two teams yet to win ten games this year.

These are still major league teams with major league talent that can win any game. The Rays have an opportunity to go on a run over these games against teams that haven’t been playing well.

The Rays have managed to get back to .500. The next step is to bank a few wins to really put themselves in the race to give fans some exciting games this summer and potentially win the division or a wild card spot.