Series Preview: Toronto Blue Jays vs Tampa Bay Rays (May 16-18)

After the fireworks in Texas, the Blue Jays are home this week for a three game set against divisional rivals Tampa Bay Rays

Toronto returns home to the Rogers Centre to play host the Tampa Bay Rays for a three game series this week. The Blue Jays are returning from a six game, west coast road trip, where they split the six games 3-3 with the Giants and Rangers.

Tampa is coming off a six game stretch where they went 1-5 after getting swept in Seattle, and losing two of three at home to the Oakland Athletics.

Pitching staffs:

Tampa – (SP) 3.81 ERA, 1.17 WHIP,  1.27 HR/9,  9.0 K/9 – (Relievers)  3.59 ERA,  1.16 WHIP,  1.45 HR/9, 7.9 K/9

Toronto – (SP) 3.23 ERA, 1.36 WHIP,  0.82 HR/9,  6.9 K/9 – (Relievers)  3.56 ERA,  1.36 WHIP,  1.1 HR/9, 8.6 K/9

Offenses:

Tampa – R/G 3.65 – .221/.296/.407 – 112 XBH – 9.5 K/G

Toronto – R/G 4.13 – .238/.319/.398 – 115 XBH – 8.8 K/G

History: Toronto and Tampa have a long history with each other despite both teams being relatively new to the league, of course, playing each other nineteen times a season will do that. The Blue Jays have typically not fared well against the Rays with an over all record of 153-168 in favour of Tampa. Toronto does have a 86-72 record at home in the Rogers Centre, and a slight edge of 24-21 over the past three seasons, including a 4-3 record in 2016.

Game 1

First Pitch – 7:07 EST

J. Happ LHP (2016: 5.0, 2.05 ERA) vs. D. Smyly LHP (2016: 1-4, 3.63 ERA) 

To open up the series tonight Toronto will hand the ball to lefty J.A. Happ. Happ has been excellent this year (5-0, 2.05 ERA, 1.159 WHIP, 5.6 K/9) and is coming off, perhaps, his best start of the season in San Francisco.

Over his career he owns a (2-2, 4.29 ERA, 1.341 WHIP, 7.9 K/9) record when facing Tampa, including a (0-0, 3.55 ERA, 1.342 WHIP, 7.8 K/9) record in 2016.

Happ Rays 3

Tampa will counter with their own left-hander in Drew Smyly. Smyly has been steady this year with a hard luck (1-4, 3.63 ERA, 0.918 WHIP, 10.5 K/9) record in 2016. He is also coming off his worst start of the season having surrendered ten hits, and six earned runs over five innings to the Seattle Mariners.

Smyly has a career record of (1-2, 2.79 ERA, 0.621 WHIP, 7.4 K/9) against the Blue Jays, including (0-2, 4.97 ERA, 0.789 WHIP, 9.2 K/9) record for 2016.

Smyly Jays 3

Player(s) to Watch

Blue Jays: Toronto’s Josh Donaldson has slumped the last two weeks hitting only 188/316/524 in his last twelve games, but has seen the ball well off Smyly 500/533/1.286 in fourteen at-bats, including five XBH.

Rays: Long-time Blue Jay killer Evan Longoria comes into this game having hit 300/391/650 with five XBH over his last five games. With his 375/429/583 career slash against Happ, he is a guy to keep an eye on in this game as will no doubt be a factor as always.

Game 2

First Pitch – 7:07 EST

M. Stroman RHP (2016: 4-0, 3.54 ERA) vs. C. Archer RHP (2016: 2-4, 4.57 ERA) 

The newly crowned Duke University graduate Marcus Stroman will take the mound on Tuesday evening looking to extend his undefeated streak since returning from injury late last season. Stroman owns a (4-0, 3.54 ERA, 1.089 WHIP, 6.6 K/9) record in 2016.

The diminutive pitcher has been stellar against Tampa over his career with a (3-1, 3.67 ERA, 1.222 WHIP, 8.0 K/9) record, which includes (2-0, 2.25 ERA, 0.750 WHIP, 7.9 K/9) in two starts in 2016.

Stroman Rays 3

The Tampa Bay Rays will send their fire balling staff ace Chris Archer to counter Stroman. Archer is in the midst of a frustrating season for him. So far in 2016 he has compiled a (2-4, 4.57 ERA, 1.546 WHIP, 11.2 K/9) record, which has been hampered by his career highs in BB/9 of 4.4, and HR/9 of 1.7.

Archer has traditionally been a thorn in the side of the Blue Jays over his career (5-4, 3.26 ERA, 1.147 WHIP, 8.9 K/9) which includes two starts from this season where he has a (0-1, 3.27 ERA, 1.182 WHIP, 13.1 K/9) record so far.

Archer Jays 3

Player(s) to Watch

Blue Jays: With the struggles the offense has seen this season, and the problems the heart of the order has had historically against Archer, it will be up to the others to help Toronto put some runs on the board. I would keep an eye on Michael Saunders who has hit 500/500/727 over his last five games with two XBH to stay hot, despite him only having one hit versus Archer in ten at-bats.

Rays: Tampa’s starter Archer will be the Ray’s player to keep an eye on this game. It will extremely interesting to see if he bounces back with a strong start against Toronto, or continues to struggle.

Game 3

First Pitch – 7:07 EST

R. Dickey RHP (2016: 2.4, 4.31 ERA) vs. J. Odorizzi RHP (2016: 0-2, 3.83 ERA) 

The last game of the series will feature perhaps Toronto’s hottest pitcher of late in R.A. Dickey. Dickey had been off to a terrible start of the season but has brought it back around recently. His record of (2-4, 4.31 ERA, 1.333 WHIP, 6.4 K/9) looks considerably better after his last three starts (1-1, 1.27 ERA, 0.938 WHIP, 5.1 K/9) in May.

Dickey owns a lifetime career record of (8-8, 4.25 ERA, 1.173 WHIP, 6.7 K/9) against Tampa, which includes one start this season where he earned a win with a 5 IP, 3 ER in his first start of 2016.

Dickey Rays 3

Taking the mound in opposition for Tampa will be right-hander Jake Odorizzi. Odorizzi has been somewhat the hard luck pitcher for the Rays this season with a (0-2, 3.83 ERA, 1.231 WHIP, 7.3 K/9) record over eight starts. He has, however, been touched up in his last three starts (0-1, 4.24 ERA, 2.11 HR/9).

The Illinois native has been tough on Toronto over his career compiling a (2-2, 3.31 ERA, 1.082 WHIP, 7.3 K/9) over eight starts, including (0-0, 1.42 ERA, 0.789 WHIP, 11.4 K/9) in two starts this season.

Odorizzi Jays 3

Player(s) to Watch

Blue Jays: With the soft throwing right-handed pitcher Odorizzi going in this game, the player to watch is Justin Smoak. The switch-hitter has been stellar so far this season with a slash of 307/438/480, which has been bolstered by his 417/500/833 over the last week.

Rays: Tampa’s OF/DH Steven Souza has been decent this season posting a 256/315/513 slash line so far. He has hit Dickey extremely well 375/444/750 over his career, which includes a home run this season.

 

Series Outlook: This series – like all between these two teams – is a hard series to outline. The Blue Jays do have a 4-3 series lead this season, but most games have been relatively close. So far in the seven games, Toronto has averaged 4.14 R/G, while the Rays posted 2.86 R/G. Seeing how both starting pitching staffs have performed through the first two months of the season, there really isn’t any reason to see this trend change. If Toronto’s offense is coming alive, as it seems, they could potentially grab all three games, but will need the bullpen to hold its own to do so.

Even though MLB is typically slow with handing down their suspensions, they could still impact this series, should they decide to hand out their punishment quickly this time around. Though doubtful, it is something fans should be on the watch for over the next couple of days.

 

*All Pitcher vs Batter Stats provided by ESPN (click on image to see original)

 

**Featured Image Credit: freaktography (Flikr)- UNDER CC BY-SA 2.0

 

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W Black

Wade is a long time baseball fan who has been involved with the game for over 30 years. Including as a former college player, amateur pitching coach, and blogger.