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No. 1 Tampa Bay Rays vs No. 8 Toronto Blue Jays: Wild Card Series Preview


Tampa Bay Rays v Toronto Blue Jays Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

The Toronto Blue Jays come in off a solid week as they tried to chase down the New York Yankees for second place in the American League East. They didn’t, but the Blue Jays played hot, and went 6-2 in their final eight games. That was one game short of jumping the Yankees, as the Blue Jays had lost six games in a row the prior week that included three against the Yankees.

Due to the expanded playoffs the Blue Jays made the playoffs pretty comfortably after going 32-28 even though they were the eighth seed and last wild card team to make the playoffs. Their reward for their efforts is a three game series against the No. 1 seed Tampa Bay Rays.

The Rays are a better team but anything can reasonably happen in a three game series. Earlier this year the Rays were swept by the Baltimore Orioles. Baseball is a sport that edges add up over a 162 game season, but over three games the edges just isn’t as big between a #1 and 8 seed.


Tuesday 5:00 PM: Matt Shoemaker vs Blake Snell
Wednesday 4:00 PM: Tyler Glasnow vs Hyun-jin Ryu
Thursday TBA (if necessary): Taijuan Walker vs Charlie Morton

In a somewhat surprising announcement yesterday afternoon Charlie Montoyo, the Blue Jays manager, announced that he would not be starting their clear cut best starting pitcher in game one. Hyun-jin Ryu is scheduled to start game two instead of game one with games one and three expecting heavy bullpen use to try to win this three game series.

This is probably the best route for a team who has no clear cut #2 option. The Blue Jays have a number of fine options in the middle to back of the rotation, but none really separate themselves from the others. It’s debatable whether it’s a good idea to throw your best pitcher in game two, but since you are guaranteed two games it can’t be a big blunder as long as you make sure you give him a shot.

Montoyo had a first hand view on how Kevin Cash worked the opener in 2018 as the Rays bench coach. It is not surprising that Montoyo decided this would be the Blue Jays best shot at taking down the Rays.

Toronto Blue Jays v Atlanta Braves
Matt Shoemaker
Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

It’s been over a week since Matt Shoemaker made an in game appearance. He threw 3.0 innings allowing one run against the Yankees. That was Shoemaker’s first start after missing a month with right shoulder inflammation. Home runs have been the biggest problem for Shoemaker in this short season. In 28.2 innings pitched he has allowed eight homers. It’s hard to know exactly how deep Shoemaker will go. He’s not fully stretched out so he could be limited to just one time through the lineup.

Hyun-jin Ryu has been a very good pitcher throughout his major league career. This year has been no exception. In 67.0 innings he’s put up a 2.69 ERA/3.01 FIP/3.32 xFIP. Of all pitchers in this series he has had the most productive 2020 season. On Opening Day the Rays were able to force Ryu out of the game either after scoring three runs in 4.2 innings. In his second start he only was able to make it through 5.0 innings on 94 pitches but was able to hold the Rays to one run. Ryu rarely walks batters (4.8% career walk rate), but the Rays batters have done a great job forcing him to work in his two appearances against them this year even if they haven’t blown the game open by the time he left. Yesterday Homin Lee wrote an indepth breakdown of Ryu for DRaysBay that is worth a look.

Taijuan Walker was one of the additions the Blue Jays made at the trade deadline. His 2.70 ERA this year has been great, but his 4.56 FIP and 4.82 xFIP are far more concerning. He has posted average strikeout (22.2%) and walk (8.4%) rates this year. Walker has been a solid pitcher throughout his career but after two injury riddled years that saw him combine for 14.0 innings in 2018-19 he has bounced back to what he has typically been.

The Blue Jays bullpen has suffered their share of injuries. Ken Giles was their lone veteran reliever and was coming off a very good 2019 season, but he has barely thrown this year and went down with Tommy John surgery a few weeks ago. It’s unknown at this time whether some of their big weapons like Jordan Romano (likely to return) and Julian Merryweather (unlikely to return) will be available against the Rays.

Washington Nationals v Toronto Blue Jays
Teoscar Hernandez
Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images

Solidly good offense

The Blue Jays boast a young offense that has been similarly effective as the Rays offense. The Blue Jays have hit .255/.325/.441 and put up a 108 wRC+. This compares pretty favorably to the Rays .238/.328/.425 and 109 wRC+ that the Rays have put up.

The most effective hitter has been Teoscar Hernandez. He led the team with 16 homers and hit .289/.340/.579 and put up a 146 wRC+.

Loudes Gurriel Jr. built off a breakout 2019 by hitting .308/.348/.534 and putting up a 138 wRC+. He’s an overly aggressive hitter (5.2% career walk rate) that has his fair share of swing and miss (23.3% career strikeout rate), but hits for average and power.

Bo Bichette missed a large part of the season with a knee injury, but has been effective hittign .301/.328/.512 and putting up a 125 wRC+ when he has been able to be on the field. He’s been very aggressive (3.9% walk rate) and striking out (21.2%) quite a bit for this approach. He hits for average and power to make it work.

Cavan Biggio is the opposite of most of rest of the lineup. He’ll strikeout (23.0%) his fair share, but he rarely chases out of the zone and forces pitchers to come in the zone and accepts his walks (15.5%). This has lead to a very high on base percentage with a .250/.375/.432 line and 127 wRC+.

Vlad Guerrero Jr. has failed to live up to the monumental expectations placed upon him, but he’s still been an effective major league hitter. This year he’s hit .262/.329/.462 and put up a 115 wRC+. More has been expected because he hits the ball quite hard, but the problem has been he hits too many grounders to take advantage of the raw power he possesses.

Baltimore Orioles v Toronto Blue Jays
Vlad Guerrero Jr.
Photo by Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images

While their offense has been effective the defense has been less so. Their -39 DRS ranks second to last in baseball compared to the Rays +24 DRS and ranking fifth. Their -6.0 UZR ranks only tenth worst compared to the Rays +14.8 UZR that ranks third in the league. The Blue Jays have allowed 42 unearned runs while the Rays only allowed 20.

The Rays are the better team, but in baseball that doesn’t mean much.

According to the guys in Vegas and projection systems the Rays are viewed anywhere from 60-65% favorites. That still means the Rays go home roughly a third of the time, because any team can lose a three game series to any other major league team much less one that is solidly good like Toronto.

After the Tampa Bay Lightning hoisted the Stanley Cup last night the Rays are ready to follow in their footsteps on their way to winning the World Series. The first step towards that goal comes this evening.

Enjoy this run while it lasts Rays fans. It could end at any moment, but the Rays have a better shot than pretty much any team except the Los Angeles Dodgers to be raising the trophy in a month. This is only the beginning.