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Rays take on the Dunedin Blue Jays

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MLB: Spring Training-Baltimore Orioles at Toronto Blue Jays Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports

The Tampa Bay Rays are one of the hottest teams in all of baseball as they take their seven game win streak across the county to Dunedin to take on the Toronto Blue Jays.

The Rays have closed the gap in the American League East to just 1.0. They sit 1.0 game behind the Boston Red Sox in a a very competitive division that has the top four teams all within 2.5 games.

This weekend the Rays take on the team in fourth place but with a solid 23-19 record.

Matchups:

Friday 7:37 PM: Tyler Glasnow vs Anthony Kay
Saturday 7:37 PM: Shane McClanahan vs Robbie Ray
Sunday 1:07 PM: TBA vs Hyun Jin Ryu
Monday 3:07 PM: TBA vs Ross Stripling

The Rays rotation plans are unknown for the series outside of Tyler Glasnow and Shane McClanahan starting the first two games. Michael Wacha is expected to be activated some time this weekend. Since it’s been almost three weeks since his last appearance I don’t know what kind of length should be expected from Wacha in his first appearance back but I would expect a short outing. Josh Fleming and Ryan Yarbrough would be on normal rest for the Sunday and Monday games respectively.

The Blue Jays pitching has been solid. They have posted a 3.93 ERA/4.20 FIP/3.95 xFIP. Their 4.07 runs allowed per game ranks twelfth in the majors.

Anthony Kay will be the first of three lefties to take the mound in the first three games of the series. Kay has had a rough start to the year putting up a 7.24 ERA/4.67 FIP/4.17 xFIP. His strikeout rate is up to 25.8% while the walk rate isn’t good but it’s down to 9.7%. He has yet to throw more than 4.0 innings in an outing this year though last time out he was able to keep the Philadelphia Phillies off the scoreboard through 4.0 innings. Rays fans likely remember Kay as the pitcher who allowed the right handed homer by Ji-Man Choi last season. Kay’s primary pitch is a 94.5 mph four-seam fastball that he throws just over 50% of the time. He mixes the other half of his pitches equally between a 88.3 mph cutter, 78.3 mph curveball, and 86.4 mph changeup. He very rarely throws the changeup to left handed batters.

Robbie Ray has put up a 3.79 ERA/5.19 FIP/3.41 xFIP over 40.1 innings this year. His 28.9% strikeout rate is in line with his career rate but his 6.6% walk rate is by far a career low and a significant improvement on his 10.8% career rate. The big problem has been homers. He’s allowed 11 homers and a 26.8% HR/FB rate. Ray throws a 95.2 mph four-seam fastball almost 60% of the time that has regained over one mph over last year’s average. He throws a 88.3 mph slider and 82.5 mph curveball as his secondary pitches of choice. He adds a 87.7 mph changeup against right handed batters.

Hyun Jin Ryu continues to be one of the better pitchers in the majors despite lack of eye popping strikeout stuff. His 2.51 ERA/2.92 FIP/3.05 xFIP start to the 2021 season isn’t that far off his career 2.93 ERA/3.28 FIP/3.39 xFIP rate. His 24.5% strikeout rate is up about 2% and his 2.7% walk rate is down about 2% from his career rates. Ryu keeps batters off balance by not having a pitch he throws a majority of the time. He throws a 78.7 mph changeup (30%), 89.5 mph four-seam fastball (28%), and 85.2 mph cutter (25%) as his three main pitches. He sprinkles in a 72.6 mph curveball mostly against right handed batters.

Ross Stripling had a solid start to his career with the Dodgers, but last year he really struggled. This year hasn’t been much better as he’s put up a 7.20 ERA/5.42 FIP/4.28 xFIP over 25.0 innings. His strikeout rate has surged to 24.6% and his 6.8% walk rate is still very good. The problem has been a 19.4% HR/FB rate and a .393 BABIP. He should be better than that very bad ERA but it’s unclear just how much better. Stripling throws his 91.8 mph four-seam fastball more frequently than any other pitch at 42%. He adds in a 78.2 mph curveball and 87.4 mph slider. He’s much more likely to throw the slider to a right handed batter, but will throw it to left handed batters. He throws a 83.5 mph changeup mostly to left handed batter but has shown a willingness to throw it to right handed batters.

The bullpen has performed well despite some key injuries. Kirby Yates had Tommy John surgery during spring training and Julian Merryweather was put on the 60-day Injured List due to an oblique injury after a hot start to the season. Jordan Romano has stepped up to be the highest leveraged arm. Tyler Chatwood has excelled with a move to the bullpen.

The Blue Jays offense has taken flight.

The Blue Jays made a huge splash this winter signing George Springer, but injuries have limited him to four games this year. After a small taste of what he could provide the offense he re-injured his quad and is expected to miss more time.

The Blue Jays are hitting .253/.320/.423 and putting up a 106 wRC+. Their 5.00 runs per game ranks sixth in the majors, one spot ahead of the Rays 4.82.

To say expectations were high for Vladimir Guerrero Jr. would be an understatement. In his first two years in the majors he didn’t meet those expectations, hitting just above league average, but this year he has broken out. He is hitting .329/.440/.612 and putting up a 188 wRC+. He has hit 11 homers.

Although their main free agent acquisition hasn’t been able to help, their second free agent has been very good. Marcus Semien is hitting .280/.348/.506 and putting up a 135 wRC+.

Bo Bichette (132 wRC+) and Teoscar Hernandez (136 wRC+) have been major contributors.

Cavan Biggio (81 wRC+), Lourdes Gurriel Jr. (51 wRC+), Rowdy Tellez (43 wRC+), and Danny Jansen (34 wRC+) have struggled to start the year.

The Blue Jays defense isn’t that good. It ranges from bad (-7 DRS) to just below average (-0.9 UZR).

The road trip bring them within an hour of home.

Soon the Blue Jays will be playing their home games in Buffalo, New York, but for now they are playing their home games in Dunedin, Florida. TD Ballpark is about a 45 minute drive from Tropicana Field. Hopefully the Rays fans will show up and make this feel like a home game.

The Rays will look to extend their winning streak as they enter the series with a seven game winning streak. They’ve swept two straight series, but winning a four game series is tough. Especially against a quality opponent like the Blue Jays.