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Rays Series Preview: Who’s your Vladdy?

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The Rays welcome the formidable Blue Jays for Shane Baz’s major league debut.

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at Toronto Blue Jays Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

The Tampa Bay Rays continue their ten game homestand coming off a disappointing four game split against the Detroit Tigers. This time they take on the Toronto Blue Jays.

There has seen some separation between the three teams fighting for a Wild Card. The Rays maintain a 6.5 game lead over the Boston Red Sox, 7.5 games ahead of the Toronto Blue Jays, and 9.0 games ahead of the New York Yankees. The Baltimore Orioles trail by 44.5 games.

The Rays have a magic number to clinch the division of six games with twelve games to go. Against the Blue Jays they have the opportunity to knock two games off that total each game played.

Matchups:

Monday 7:10 PM: Robbie Ray vs Shane Baz
Tuesday 7:10 PM: Alek Manoah vs Drew Rasmussen
Wednesday 3:10 PM: TBA vs Michael Wacha

The big news of this series is that the Rays have promoted their top pitching prospect in the minors for tonight’s start against Robbie Ray, one of the front runners for the 2021 American League Cy Young Award.

Robbie Rays has put up a 2.64 ERA/3.36 FIP/3.15 xFIP over 177.2 innings. His 33.1% strikeout rate is very good but the biggest step forward has come in his 6.3% walk rate after posting 10.7%+ rates over the last four seasons. In five starts he’s held the Rays to seven runs in 34.0 innings. He’s struck out 46 while only allowing 3 walks, but the Rays have gotten him for five homers. Despite his generally great performance the Rays have been victorious in three of those five starts. Ray is primarily a two pitch pitcher who works off a 94.9 mph four-seam fastball and 88.6 mph slider. He will infrequently add a 82.5 mph curveball and 88.3 mph changeup.

Alek Manoah has had a great rookie year. He’s put up a 3.39 ERA/3.89 FIP/4.11 xFIP over 93.0 innings. He’s posted a 26.6% strikeout rate and 8.1% walk rate. The Rays have been held scoreless in two of the three starts Manoah has made this season. In the other start they put up three runs and ran him out of the game in the fourth inning. Manoah works off a 93.7 mph four-seam fastball, 92.8 mph sinker, and 81.1 mph slider. He will sprinkle in a 86.8 mph changeup almost exclusively to left handed batters.

It’s unknown who will start for the Blue Jays on Wenesday. It was scheduled to be Hyun Jin Ryu, but Ryu was placed on the Injured List with neck tightness after his last start.

Two of the top offenses in the game.

The Rays are tied with the Houston Astros for most runs in the majors with 796 runs scored. The Blue Jays come in third with 785 runs scored.

Minnesota Twins v Toronto Blue Jays Photo by Mark Blinch/Getty Images

The Blue Jays have hit .267/.333/.464 and put up a 114 wRC+. They are an aggressive team at the plate. They don’t walk or strikeout a lot but they lead the league in power with 237 homers and .198 ISO.

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. continues his quest for the Triple Crown. He leads the majors with a .321 batting average and 46 homers. His 105 RBI ranks fourth behind Salvador Perez (113), Jose Abreu (113), and Teoscar Hernandez (106). Guerrero Jr.’s 173 wRC+ is tied with Bryce Harper for best in the majors.

Marcus Semien has been one of the biggest impact bats added to any team last winter. He’s hit 40 homers and put up a 134 wRC+. Teoscar Hernandez (136 wRC+) and George Springer (130 wRC+) have provided a lot of support, while Bo Bichette (119 wRC+), Lourdes Gurriel Jr. (111 wRC+), and Alejandro Kirk (121 wRC+) have been quality secondary bats.

The Blue Jays defense has been quite solid putting up a +13 DRS and +7.8 UZR.

The Rays need to push for the American League East title before taking a breather before the playoffs.

The Rays control their destiny and have a large margin of error with two weeks remaining in the regular season; however, anything can happen in baseball so they need to make sure they get things locked up so they can set their rotation and get some guys some rest before the playoffs begin.

Health is the most important thing for the Rays moving forward. That includes avoiding further injuries and getting players back from the Injured List. The most important player might be making his return Tuesday night if things are progressing as well as it’s been reported.