After sweeping Cleveland, including a seven-inning no-hitter in the second game of Wednesday’s doubleheader, the Tampa Bay Rays look to exact some revenge on the Toronto Blue Jays, who they’ll welcome into the friendly confines of Tropicana Field for a three-game series starting Friday. Toronto is coming off an inclement weather-shortened series split against the Orioles.
The Rays enter the series with a 51-36 record — 15-games above .500 and 2.5 games behind the Red Sox in the division. Tampa Bay is also in the midst of a four-game win streak, having won 19 of the last 23 home games.
The Rays lost five straight games to end the month of June — getting swept by the Nationals in Washington and dropping two of three against Toronto — yet they recovered nicely in their return home, winning all three of their games against Cleveland. They outscored that awful named team from Cleveland by a 12 run margin, while most of the damage incurred came in the 9-8 series opener. The Rays, otherwise, held Cleveland to just one run across the final 14 innings of the series.
The Blue Jays have been streaky this season, alternating between winning stretches and losing patches. All told, Toronto is four games above .500 after winning three of their last five games. They took two of three at home against Tampa Bay last weekend after dropping two of three against Seattle. Their series against the Orioles was supposed to conclude on Thursday, yet the game was postponed due to inclement weather — thanks a lot, Elsa. Toronto is currently in third place in the American League East, trailing Boston by eight games and the Rays by 5.5. Tampa Bay would love nothing more than to expand their lead in the division over Toronto.
Tampa Bay’s offense is again heating up, with the Rays slashing .251 BA/.324 OBP/.433 SLG/.757 OPS over the last two weeks, with a .181 ISO, and a 110 wRC+. The Blue Jays, however, are hitting .267 overall and are slashing .301 BA/.358 OBP/.520 SLG/.778 OPS over the same stretch, with a powerful .219 ISO and a beefy 137 wRC+.
If the final two games of last week’s series against Toronto speak to anything, it’s that the Blue Jays can be pitched to. After all, they did most of their damage across just two innings in the second game of the set, and largely against the Rays bullpen, and were limited to just one run on Sunday. Tampa Bay will also turn to the two most effective hurlers in last week’s series, Shane McClanahan and Ryan Yarbrough, in the first two games of this set.
Two questions beg though: can Tampa Bay’s offense do anything against Alek Manoah and Ross Stripling, and can the pitching staff keep Toronto’s offense at bay over the next 27 innings?
Over the next three days, Kevin Cash will turn to Shane McClanahan (3-3, 4.18 ERA), Ryan Yarbrough (5-3, 4.34 ERA) in some capacity, and likely Rich Hill (6-3, 3.65 ERA). Charlie Montoyo will counter with Alek Manoah (2-0, 2.70 ERA), Ross Stripling (3-4, 4.06 ERA), and Steven Matz (7-4, 4.72 ERA).
Shane McClanahan gave up three runs (two earned) on three hits and two walks across 5.1 innings while striking out five on Saturday in Buffalo. The only run McClanahan allowed while on the mound was a second-inning solo home run by George Springer. He departed in the sixth with a pair of runners on base, both of which came around to score after reliever Matt Wisler. The 24-year-old McClanahan otherwise was fantastic and now has logged a 4.72 ERA and a 3.87 FIP, with a 1.23 WHIP, and 3.67 K/BB across 56 innings on the season, while limiting opponents to three runs or fewer in each of his last five starts.
Alek Manoah was fantastic against the Rays on Friday, tossing seven scoreless innings, allowing three hits and a walk while fanning 10. The 10 strikeouts were a season-high mark for the rookie hurler. Manoah has now tossed two consecutive scoreless outings while allowing an earned run or fewer in four of his last five appearances. The sample size remains relatively small, but he now owns a 2.70 ERA and a 4.46 FIP, with a 1.01 WHIP, and 3.58 K/BB across 36.2 innings on the season. Key Matchups: Wander Franco (1-3), Francisco Mejía (1-2, 2B), Joey Wendle (1-3)
Ryan Yarbrough allowed one earned run on four hits while recording five strikeouts over five innings on Sunday in Buffalo. The southpaw put together a second consecutive strong outing after a pair of rocky starts where he allowed a combined 12 earned runs over 8.1 innings against the White Sox and Red Sox. Yarbrough worked around a solo home run by Randal Grichuk and allowing only one other extra-base hit during his time on the mound. He now maintains a 4.24 ERA and a 4.25 FIP, with a 1.17 WHIP, and 5.00 K/BB across 91.1 innings on the season. He is 7-1 with a 2.38 ERA across 15 career appearances (seven starts) against the Blue Jays.
Ross Stripling allowed one run on two hits and three walks over 5.2 innings against Tampa Bay last Saturday. He struck out five. Stripling limited the Rays to a Manuel Margot home run before departing one out shy of a quality start. The veteran has turned his season around, rattling off a 2.35 ERA across his last eight starts while losing just once. Prior to his current run, Stripling was winless and owned an ugly 7.20 ERA and 1.76 WHIP through his first six turns. Yet, those marks now sit at 4.06 and a 4.47 FIP, with a 1.21 WHIP, and a 3.48 K/BB across 71.0 innings on the season. He is now 0-0 with a 0.71 ERA in two outings (one start) against the Rays this season. Key Matchups: Ji-Man Choi (1-2, 3 BB), Francisco Mejía (1-4, 2B, RBI, BB), Joey Wendle (2-4, 2B)
Rich Hill allowed a run on three hits and a walk over 3.2 innings against Cleveland on Monday. He struck out five of the first six batters he faced, appearing to set the tone for the game. The left-hander rolled through three scoreless frames to start the contest before the wheels began to fall off in the fourth. Ahmed Rosario doubled to right-center to open the frame, while Ramírez was hit on the foot by a pitch even though it appeared he had swung, which was ruled a check swing. Franmil Reyes followed with a single to left, scoring Rosario to put Cleveland on the board. The runners advanced into second and third on a double steal during Bradley Zimmer’s at-bat, and Bobby Bradley was hit by a pitch with two outs, loading the bases. Rays manager Kevin Cash had seen enough and pulled the none too pleased Hill for the final out of the frame. It was the veteran’s shortest appearance since tossing just three innings on May 2, yet he still managed to lower his ERA to 3.65 and his FIP to 4.52, with a 1.11 WHIP, and 3.23 K/BB across 86.1 innings on the season
Steven Matz allowed four runs (three earned) on six hits with four strikeouts and zero walks across four innings on Tuesday in Baltimore. While the left-hander generated 10 swinging strikes on only 68 pitches, he also gave up plenty of hard contact with Pedro Severino and Cedric Mullins taking him deep. Matz has now allowed seven earned runs over 6.2 frames in two starts since returning from the Injured List. He has a 4.72 ERA and a 4.09 FIP, with a 1.38 WHIP, and 3.90 K/BB across 76.1 innings on the season. Matz is 1-0 with a 5.40 ERA in one five-inning outing against the Rays this season. Key Matchups: Randy Arozarena (3-4, 2 HR, 4 RBI), Yandy Díaz (1-1, 2B, 2 BB), Kevin Kiermaier (2-6)
— Even though infield/outfield prospect Vidal Bruján was returned to Triple-A Durham after serving as the 27th man in Wednesday’s doubleheader against Cleveland. He, however, is back on the Rays’ active roster.
Bruján was recalled after Mike Brosseau (right oblique strain) was placed on the 10-day Injured List, retroactive to July 8. He also replaces outfielder Manuel Margot (left hamstring strain), who will miss two-to-three weeks on the IL.
Bruján played both games Wednesday, starting at second base and in right field, going 1-6 with an RBI single, a stolen base, and several excellent plays in the field including a leaping grab on a fly-ball at the warning track for the final out of the no-hitter in the second game of the doubleheader.