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Series Preview: Rays vs Jays

Kansas City Royals v. Toronto Blue Jays Photo by Jon Blacker/MLB Photos via Getty Images

The Tampa Bay Rays head north of the border for the first time since 2019 to take on the Toronto Blue Jays. It will be the third location that have hosted a Rays vs Blue Jays game in 2021 including Dunedin, Florida and Buffalo, New York.

Despite the Rays going a bit flat of late (5-5 over their last ten games) only one team was able to make up any ground over the Rays in the American League East. The Toronto Blue Jays have gone 9-1 over their last ten catapulting them from fourth to a tie for second and the Wild Cards in the American League. The Blue Jays and Boston Red Sox are 9.0 games behind the Rays. The New York Yankees have fallen to 10.0 games back. The Baltimore Orioles are 43.0 games back. The Rays magic number to clinch the American League East stands at 11 with 20 games remaining.

Matchups:

Monday 7:07 PM: Collin McHugh (opener) vs Alek Manoah
Tuesday 7:07 PM: Drew Rasmussen vs Jose Berrios
Wednesday 3:07 PM: Michael Wacha vs Robbie Ray

Alek Manoah has had an impressive first season in the Major Leagues. In 85.0 innings he’s posted a 3.71 ERA/4.16 FIP/4.34 xFIP. He’s put up a 25.8% strikeout rate and 8.7% walk rate. He’s allowed a 39.9% flyball rate but has kept the homer rate in check at 12.4% HR/FB. In his first outing against the Rays he held them scoreless over 7.0 innings, but in his very next start they were able to knock him out in the fourth inning after allowing three runs. Manoah is mainly a fastball/slider pitcher. He mixes his fastball usage between a 93.7 mph four-seam fastball and a 92.8 mph sinker. His 81.2 mph slider is his go to putaway pitch. He will add a 86.9 mph changeup primarily to left handed batters.

Jose Berrios was the clear number two starting pitcher, behind Max Scherzer, moved at the trade deadline. Berrios has been everything the Blue Jays could’ve expected with a 3.63 ERA/3.34 FIP/3.76 xFIP over 44.2 innings after the trade. Berrios most frequently thrown pitch is a 83.0 mph curveball. It comes in just ahead of his 93.8 mph sinker and 94.1 mph four-seam fastball. He throws each of his top three pitches in the 25-30% range. He adds a 84.9 mph changeup as his fourth pitch. He throws it more often against left handed batter but will sprinkle it in against right handed batters at a low frequency.

Robbie Ray has had a career season that has put him as one of the favorites for the American League Cy Young Award. He’s put up a 2.69 ERA/3.45 FIP/3.22 xFIP over 170.1 innings. His 32.4% strikeout rate has rebounded off the down 2020 season. The biggest improvement in his 2021 season comes from a 6.5% walk rate coming off a 17.9% walk rate in 2020 and 10.3% career rate. Ray has been good against the Rays. In four starts he’s allowed six runs over 27.0 innings with 33 strikeouts and 3 walks. Ray is primarily a two pitch pitcher that works off a 94.9 mph four-seam fastball that he throws nearly 60% of the time. His primary breaking ball option is a 88.6 mph slider that he throws 30% of the time. The other 10% is mixed between low frequency uses of a 82.5 mph curveball and 88.6 mph changeup almost exclusively to right handed batters.

The bullpen has been the weak spot for the Blue Jays. It hasn’t been terrible but it has been very middle of the pack. They have a put up a 3.99 ERA/4.27 FIP/4.16 xFIP. The leveraged performance has been where they have struggled the most putting up a 1.07 WPA which is good for 17th in the majors.

Number one vs number two scoring offenses in the majors face off.

The Rays offense leads the league with a 5.42 runs per game, but the Blue Jays are right on their heels at 5.29 runs per game.

The Blue Jays are hitting .267/.333/.466 and putting up a 115 wRC+ as a team. They lead the majors with 230 homers.

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. has been the most productive hitter in the majors. He’s hitting .319/.408/.610 and putting up a 171 wRC+. He’s threatening a run at the Triple Crown. He leads the league in batting average, tied for the league in homers, and tied for third in RBI.

After a disappointing 2020 season Marcus Semien has been one of best free agent signings. He’s put up a .272/.342/.547 line and 137 wRC+. His 6.3 fWAR rank second most among position players trailing only his teammate Guerrero Jr at 6.4.

George Springer was the higher profile signing this winter and injuries has slowed his impact, but through 255 plate appearances he’s put up a 144 wRC+.

Teoscar Hernandez (136 wRC+), Bo Bichette (118 wRC+), and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. (114 wRC+) would be at the top of threats in most lineups but have been secondary threats in this lineup.

Santiago Espinal (103 wRC+), Randall Grichuk (93 wRC+), and Corey Dickerson (93 wRC+) have been solid complementary pieces.

The Blue Jays are more known for their offensive production, but their defense is solid or better. They’ve put up a +9 DRS and +7.8 UZR.

The Rays have two series remaining against the Blue Jays.

As the season winds down the Rays schedule picks up over the next three weeks. They face the Blue Jays six times. The Rays hold a 8-4 lead in the season series and need to win 2 of their final six to lock in the head to head tie breaker.

The Rays have solidified their hold on the American League East title. As the season winds down the most important thing is getting as healthy as they can for a deep run in October.