The Tampa Bay Rays look to cap what has been a successful road trip with a few more wins when they start a three-game series against the Toronto Blue Jays on Monday night. Tampa Bay prevailed against Cleveland on Sunday, 6-4, taking two of three from the top team in the AL Central. Toronto took two of three on the road from the Marlins in Miami, winning the rubber game 6-1 Sunday afternoon.
The Rays took two of three in the last series against the Jays, which was in Toronto from August 10-12, and are 7-2 this season overall.
With the win Sunday, the Rays improved to 73-63, moving 10 games over .500 for the first time since June 2015 — Kevin Cash’s first season — and this late in a season since 2013, the last time they made the playoffs.
They have also stayed within sight of the final Wildcard spot, starting the series with Toronto eight games back of the Athletics, who they will face September 14-16 at Tropicana Field.
It’s one of those things where everybody in this clubhouse feels like we have a chance to be in the race and that we’re not out of it yet. So, we’re definitely going for it. And we’re having a lot of fun doing it, Ryan Yarbrough said after the series finale on Sunday.
This should make for a compelling week of baseball as Oakland plays host to the Yankees, who then will face the Mariners, who are also in the Rays’ way. Dare I say let’s go Yankees?
The Blue Jays aren’t an awful team offensively speaking, although the pitching staff leaves a lot to be desired — ranking 12 out of 15 in the American League, and 27 out of 30 overall. Toronto’s hurlers have actually been worse in the month of August, combining for a 5.64 ERA/4.94 FIP/.287 BAA line. Meanwhile, the Rays offense has not hit a lot of homers, although CJ Cron and company have been mightily productive, with the team averaging 4.5 runs per game over the last 14 days.
As they have done all season, it will be incumbent upon the Rays to limit the long-ball, Toronto’s main facet of run production. Also, expect Tampa Bay to put the ball in play, then run all over Russell Martin and Luke Maile.
With the exception of Tyler Glasnow (1-4, 3.95 ERA), who is slated to pitch in the finale on Wednesday, Kevin Cash has not set the openers/starters for the first and second games of the series. Even so, Ryne Stanek (2-3, 2.77 ERA) will likely open the game on Monday, while Yonny Chirinos (2-5, 4.05 ERA) should see the most mound time. Jalen Beeks (4-1, 6.08 ERA) will, presumably, pitch the bulk of the innings on Tuesday. John Gibbons will counter with Marcus Stroman (4-8, 5.27 ERA), Sam Gaviglio (2-7, 5.16), and Ryan Borucki (3-3, 4.52 ERA).
Ryne Stanek worked around a hit with one strikeout in a scoreless inning of work Tuesday as the opener in Atlanta. The right-hander threw seven of 11 pitches for strikes as he faced the minimum three batters in his inning of work, thanks to a caught stealing of Ender Inciarte.
Yonny Chirinos was hit hard following Stanek, tossing five innings and allowing five runs (two earned) on seven hits and three walks. He struck out three in the 81-pitch outing (51 strikes, 63% strike rate, 17/25 first-pitch strikes). Chirinos wasn’t particularly sharp and was on track to take the loss after departing with the Rays trailing 5-4, but Tampa Bay ended up tying the game in the eighth inning to take the right-hander off the hook.
Marcus Stroman threw a bullpen session Saturday and should get the start Monday. Stroman, who landed on the disabled list August 19 with a nagging blister issue, has been dealing with the affliction for much of the season which helps explain his 5.27 ERA and 1.44 WHIP in what amounts to the worst season of his big league career. Stroman spun off one of Toronto’s two wins against the Tampa Bay this season on August 12, limiting the Rays to one run on five hits and a walk. He struck out two. Even So, he is 5-4 with a 4.20 ERA in 12 career starts against Tampa Bay. Key Matchups: Willy Adames (2-2, RBI), Ji-Man Choi (1-2), CJ Cron (3-8), Matt Duffy (2-7, 2B, 2 BB), Carlos Gomez (2-2, HR, 3 RBI), Joey Wendle (1-2)
Jalen Beeks got the win Wednesday, pitching three shutout — and rain-shortened — innings with two strikeouts while allowing four hits and three walks against Atlanta. An hour and six-minute rain delay limited his outing to just three innings and 49 pitches (26 strikes, 53% strike rate, 9/15 first-pitch strikes) — both of which were season-low totals since joining Tampa Bay — although it was still enough to pick up the win for a third straight outing. The rookie southpaw has a 2.63 ERA with a 2/1 K/BB in 27-1/3 innings since the start of August.
Sam Gaviglio allowed four runs on seven hits and two walks while striking out two across 5-2/3 innings on Monday against Baltimore. Gaviglio sailed through the front five scoreless innings before the wheels fell off in the sixth. He gave up a run on a fielder’s choice, which was followed by a three-run blast to cap off the four-run frame. Meanwhile, Toronto’s offense was unable to muster a single run, so the right-hander was hit with his seventh loss of the season. Gaviglio owns a 5.02 ERA and 1.43 WHIP with 92 punch-outs over 100-1/3 innings. He is 1-2 with a 4.61 ERA in three career starts against the Rays, including 0-2 in two starts this season. Key Matchups: Willy Adames (1-3, RBI, BB), Jake Bauers (2-2, 2B, HR, 2 RBI), Ji-Man Choi (1-2, 2B), CJ Cron (1-4), Matt Duffy (2-6), Kevin Kiermaier (1-4), Mallex Smith (2-5, 2B, RBI), Joey Wendle (3-4, 2B, 2 RBI)
Tyler Glasnow was excellent on Friday, throwing seven innings of one-run ball while allowing two hits (including a homer) and one walk on an efficient 76 pitches (56 strikes, 74% strike rate, 19/24 first-pitch strikes). He struck out six.
Glasnow pounded the top of the zone with his upper 90’s four-seam fastball before working over the edges of the plate. Then, he would drop in a low-80s curveball, with 7-to-8 inches of depth, over the heart of the plate, resulting in a good number of taken strikes. On occasion he would drop in a mid-80s slider, that fell right off the table and onto home plate, resulting in a 16.7% SwStr rate. The depth he got on his offspeed stuff was unreal, thanks in part to his release point which mimicked that of his four-seamer.
Ryan Borucki coughed up five runs on eight hits across 4-2/3 innings while striking out two. The rookie was staked to an early four-run lead, yet Baltimore quickly stormed back while an Adam Jones grand slam in the fifth inning helped chase Borucki from the game. He has relied primarily on a heavy sinking 92 mph four-seam fastball and a firm 84 mph changeup with a ton of backspin, while also mixing in a 79 mph slider with exceptional depth and short glove-side cutting movement.
— Mallex Smith, who was seen in uniform in the background of a Willy Adames Instagram story yesterday, should be reinstated from the 10-day DL on Monday.
— The Rays made a surprise roster move on Sunday, promoting INF/OF Andrew Velazquez from Triple-A Durham to provide depth at several positions. The move was made in part because CF Kevin Kiermaier remains sidelined due to a sore back and Velazquez can play centerfield.
To make room on the 40-man roster for Velasquez, the Rays put injured RHP Jose Mujica on the big-league roster and then on the 60-day DL.
So why Velazquez over Austin Meadows, the prospect acquired from the Pirates who is tearing it up at Durham? Marc Topkin (Tampa Bay Times) wrote Sunday:
Meadows hasn’t played since Wednesday when he was hit on the left hand in the at-bat after his third homer of the game.
And why Velazquez over Kean Wong, who also plays infield and outfield and is having a great year? Because Velazquez is better and has more experience in center, can play short which Wong doesn’t, is a faster runner which makes him a potential pinch-runner, and is a switch-hitter while Wong is a lefty, of which the Rays have plenty.