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Series Preview: Rays take on (Buffalo) Blue Jays

MLB: JUL 01 Mariners at Blue Jays Photo by Joe Robbins/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Tampa Bay Rays didn’t enjoy their trip to the nation’s capital as they dropped both games to the Washington Nationals.

The Rays have fallen 3.5 games behind the Boston Red Sox into second place in the American League East. The Toronto Blue Jays sit 8.5 games back while the New York Yankees are 9.0 games back. The Baltimore Orioles have fallen 23.5 games behind.

The last time the Rays faced the Blue Jays they swept a four game series in Dunedin, Florida. This time they take on the Blue Jay in Buffalo, New York. The Rays are 5-2 against the Blue Jays in 2021.

Matchups:

Friday 7:07 PM: Luis Patino vs Alek Manoah
Saturday 3:07 PM: Shane McClanahan vs Ross Stripling
Sunday 1:07 PM: Ryan Yarbrough vs Robbie Ray

Alek Manoah was the Blue Jays 2019 first round pick, eleventh overall. He’s solidly filled in for the Blue Jays rotation. He has posted a 3.34 ERA/5.32 FIP/4.47 xFIP over 29.2 innings. In his last outing he allowed one unearned run in 6.0 innings against the Orioles. He’s posted a very good 26.8% strikeout rate and reasonable 8.9% walk rate. According to FIP and xFIP he’s been quite fortunate as he’s allowed a 18.9% HR/FB rate while allowing a very high 48.1% flyball rate. He’s allowed seven homers. Manoah uses a 94.1 mph four-seam fastball as his primary offering coming in just above 40%. He will throw a 82.2 mph slider nearly 30% of the time and a 93.5 mph sinker 20% of the time. He will throw a 88.1 mph changeup the remaining 10% of the time but is much more likely to throw it to a left handed batter. In a tiny sample left handed batters have been much more successful with a .381 wOBA allowed compared to a .247 wOBA allowed to right handed batters.

Ross Stripling has settled things down after a rough start to the 2021 season. Overall he has a 4.27 ERA/4.38 FIP/4.23 xFIP, but since his start on May 24 he has put up a 2.45 ERA/3.73 FIP/4.15 xFIP over seven games. That started in a great performance against the Rays out of the bullpen where he allowed zero runs over 7.0 innings. Stripling throws a 92.0 mph four-seam fastball as his primary pitch just over 50% of the time. He mixes the remaining half evenly between a 78.0 mph curveball, 87.5 mph slider, and 83.2 mph changeup. He is willing to throw all pitches to batters from both sides of the plate, but left handed batters can discount the slider.

Robbie Ray has had one of the more surprising pitching success stories of 2021. He has put up a 3.43 ERA/4.20 FIP/3.11 xFIP over 86.2 innings. His strikeout rate is a very high 31.7%, but the biggest surprise is his 6.2% walk rate. He has a career walk rate of 10.6% and hasn’t posted a sub 10% rate since 2016. Ray is primarily a two pitch pitcher. He throws his 95.3 mph four-seam fastball nearly 60% and will throw his 89.1 mph slider nearly 30% of the time. He will mix in a 82.6 mph curveball and 87.0 mph changeup. He throws the curveball almost exclusively to right handed batters and he has yet to throw a changeup to a left handed batter this year.

The Blue Jays bullpen has suffered a lot of injuries, with big contributors like Kirby Yates and Julian Merryweather on the 60-day Injured List. They have stabilized with a 3.84 ERA/4.15 FIP/4.26 xFIP. That’s not great but the ERA ranks tenth and the FIP and xFIP both come in 15th. It’s definitely not a strength but it’s been better than expected. Jordan Romano has been very good posting a 1.21 ERA/2.01 FIP/3.39 xFIP and collecting six saves. Earlier this week they picked up Adam Cimber in a trade with the Miami Marlins to try to improve the bullpen. It’s likely the first of multiple relievers they will be looking to add before the trade deadline.

The Blue Jays offense leads the team.

The Toronto Blue Jays offense has hit .266/.330/.452 and put up a 111 wRC+. They rank second in wRC+, wOBA, and OPS. Their 5.13 runs per game ranks third and just ahead of 4.90 runs per game the Rays have scored.

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. has broken out. He was the number one prospect in all of baseball prior to Wander Franco taking over. He had a mediocre first two seasons in the major leagues, but this year he has been incredible. He is hitting .336/.440/.668 and putting up a 193 wRC+. He leads the team with 26 homers.

Marcus Semien has rebounded from a disappointing 2020. Taking a one year deal to bet on himself seems like it was the right move. He his hitting .291/.357/.548 and putting up a 142 wRC+ that is very similar to his 2019 season with the Oakland Athletics. He has hit 20 homers.

Teoscar Hernandez (125 wRC+) and Bo Bichette (121 wRC+) have provided most of the additional support.

Reese McGuire (111 wRC+), Randal Grichuk (102 wRC+), Cavan Biggio (99 wRC+), Santiago Espinal (93 wRC+), and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. (86 wRC+) have provided a solid bottom of the lineup.

George Springer has missed most of the season due to two stints on the Injured List. In 53 plate appearances he is hitting .233/.365/.465 and putting up a 128 wRC+. He should provide a boost to the offense going forward.

The Blue Jays defense has improved with a +9 DRS and -5.3 UZR. They are far from the best defense, but they have taken a big step forward with the addition of Semien and moving Guerrero Jr. to first.

A week and a half remains until the All-Star Break.

The Rays have nine games remaining before the All-Star Break. Six of those games will be against the Blue Jays, including this series and another one at Tropicana Field. The Rays have cooled off from their very hot May and could use the break.

It’s important to play well going into the trade deadline at the end of the month in a highly competitive division. The Rays are on pace to win 94 games at their half way point, but that likely would only be good enough to win a wild card spot. So they will likely need to win more games in the second half to win the division.