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Series Preview: Rays vs. Toronto Blue Jays

MLB: Toronto Blue Jays at Baltimore Orioles Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

The Tampa Bay Rays swept the Cleveland Indians during a midweek series that featured both a hurricane and a “not a no-hitter.” The Rays did everything they had to do to beat an under powered team that is middle of the pack in the American League.

This put the Rays within 2.5 games of the Boston Red Sox. The Toronto Blue Jays sit 8.0 games behind the Red Sox while the New York Yankees are 9.0 games back. Baltimore has fallen 25.0 games behind pace.

Last weekend the Rays lost two out of three games against the Blue Jays in Buffalo, New York. This time they face off at Tropicana Field as they look to extend their four game winning streak and go into the All-Star Break on a high note.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one:


Friday 7:10 PM: Alek Manoah vs Shane McClanahan
Saturday 1:10 PM: Ross Stripling vs Ryan Yarbrough
Sunday 1:10 PM: Robbie Ray vs Rich Hill

These are the same three starting pitcher the Rays faced last weekend. Alek Manoah had one of his best starts in his young career throwing 7.0 scoreless innings allowing three hits and one walk while striking out ten. Ross Stripling only allowed one run in 5.2 innings. Robbie Ray picked up the loss while throwing very well. He allowed two runs in 7.0 innings on five hits and two walks.

Alek Manoah has been a pleasant surprise for the Blue Jays starting rotation. He’s was their second best starting pitching prospect entering the season but has stepped up after Nate Pearson has struggled to stay healthy. He has a 2.70 ERA/4.46 FIP/4.05 xFIP over 36.2 innings. He has a great 29.1% strikeout rate with a solid 8.1% walk rate. Homers have been the problem with a 1.71 HR/9 rate and why his FIP is so high. Last week when he faced the Rays he found success with all his pitches picking up 23 whiffs. His slider was the most effective pitch picking up 11 whiffs on 33 pitches. He split his 82.0 mph slider, 94.1 mph fastball, and 93.4 mph sinker equally right around 30%. His 87.8 mph changeup was used roughly as often. Nobody made good contact on the slider as the only ball in play had a 76.2 mph exit velocity.

Ross Stripling has a 4.06 ERA/4.47 FIP/4.29 xFIP over 71.0 innings. He has posted an above average 24.5% strikeout rate and 7.0% walk rate. His 1.65 HR/9 rate is where he has found struggles. His 14.8% HR/FB rate is fairly average but the big change has come in a flyball rate pushing 45% which is 10-15% higher than he posted with the Los Angeles Dodgers. In his start against the Rays last weekend he only got seven whiffs on 97 pitches. Five of them came on his 92.3 mph four-seam fastball that he threw just over 50% of the time. The remaining two came on 87.4 mph sliders out of 19 pitches. His 78.0 mph knuckle curve and 83.2 mph changeup combined to pick up no whiffs on 27 pitches. He was able to get six called strikes on the knuckle curve butt the Rays jumped on most other pitches that found the strike zone.

Robbie Ray has put up his best season since 2017. He has a 3.36 ERA/4.21 FIP/3.23 xFIP over 93.2 innings. His strikeout rate is up to 31.2% and more importantly his walk rate has falled to 6.3% and would be the first year he’s been below 10% since 2016. Ray throws off his four-seam fastball that he generally throws just under 60% of the time, but last time out he threw 81 of his 104 pitches (77.9%) as four-seam fastballs. Rays only swung and missed 5 times out of 42 swings and only were charged with 11 called strikes. The Rays hit the fastball hard. They didn’t get much in the way of results off of him, but did pick up the victory.

The Blue Jays have the second highest scoring offense in the majors.

The Blue Jays have scored 5.21 runs per game ranking second int he majors behind the Houston Astros 5.55 runs per game. The distance between the Blue Jays and Astros (0.34 runs per game) is similar to the distance between the Blue Jays and Rays (0.31 runs per game) who come in with the eighth highest scoring offense in the majors.

The Blue Jays have hit .267/.329/.454 and have put up a 112 wRC+. Their .188 ISO ranks only behind the surprising San Francisco Giants offense.

We saw what Vladimir Guerrero Jr. can do last weekend. He is hitting .341/.439/.679 and putting up a 196 wRC+. He has 28 homers.

Marcus Semien has been one of the best free agent signings of last winter hitting .282/.348/.532 and putting up a 136 wRC+. He’s hit 21 homers.

Bo Bichette (126 wRC+) and Teoscar Hernandez (120 wRC+) have been provided a big boost.

George Springer (120 wRC+) has only 73 plate appearances is hitting well.

Santiago Espinal (112 wRC+), Reese McGuire (92 wRC+), Randal Grichuk (103 wRC+), Lourdes Gurriel Jr (90 wRC+), and Cavan Biggio (97 wRC+) have been solid in varying roles.

Rays have won four in a row and look to go into the break strong.

Over the last few weeks the Rays haven’t played their best. Their pitching has allowed big innings. The defense has deserted them in key moments. They have failed to get the big hit. All things that weren’t happening when they seemingly won every game for the month of May.

Despite these things the Rays have put themselves in a good spot with just over half the season in the books. The Rays have separated themselves with the Red Sox as the major competitors in the American League East. They have 13 head-to-head games remaining and only 2.5 games separating the two teams. Anything can happen over the final 75 games.

The Rays still need to focus on one game at a time and take care of the business in front of them. The Blue Jays and Yankees will make a run at some point to close the gap if they don’t beat the teams they should beat.