After a disappointing homestand, the Tampa Bay Rays made their way to Toronto, where they are set to face the Blue Jays over the next three days. Both teams are coming off of series losses.
After having a stranglehold on a postseason spot for most of the season, the Rays have slid down the AL Wildcard standings. They enter the series 1/2 game behind the Athletics for the league’s final postseason spot after losing seven of their last 10 games.
Per FanGraphs, Tampa Bay’s chances of making it to the postseason have dwindled to just 51.3% — 4.6% lower than the Boston Red Sox, who currently sit just a half-game back of the Rays in the standings. Can the Rays keep pace in the playoff race with a series win over Blue Jays?
This is a crucial series for the Rays for another reason. A series win in Toronto, and a good showing in the first game of the upcoming series in Boston could push the front office to look to the trade market to acquire players to bolster the roster, including arms for the rotation.
Per Juan Toribio (MLB.com), scouts from the Tigers, Mets and a handful of other teams have been around the Rays’ organization over the last month.
Even though Toronto’s youngsters have flashed some potential in the second half of the season, the Blue Jays have drastically underperformed the Rays over the last 14 days — 74 wRC+ vs 98 wRC+, -15.5 wRAA vs -2.0 wRAA. Considering the gravity of the next four games for Tampa Bay, it will be incumbent upon Willy Adames, Avisail Garcia, Guillermo Heredia, and the rest of the team to step it up and play competitive baseball, starting last Wednesday.
The Rays are 5-1 against the Blue Jays this season.
Over the next three days, Kevin Cash will lean on Ryan Yarbough (8-3, 3.93 ERA) and Jalen Beeks (5-1, 3.69 ERA) — both as bulk inning guys — and Yonny Chirinos (8-5, 3.29 ERA). Charlie Montoyo will counter with Jacob Waguespack (1-0, 5.68 ERA), Ryan Borucki (0-1, 3.86 ERA), and Aaron Sanchez (3-14, 6.06 ERA).
Diego Castillo will serve as the opener on Friday. Castillo worked as an opener 11 times last season, although this will be his first time in that role this year. With Castillo getting the ball first, Tampa Bay will likely turn to Emilio Pagan should a save opportunity arise. Castillo has logged 4-1/3 innings over five appearances since his return from the Injured List, allowing two runs (both against Boston on July 23) while notching five strikeouts and a hold over that span.
Ryan Yarbrough was impressive again, tossing six scoreless innings while allowing two hits with no walks against the White Sox on Saturday. He struck out five. Tampa Bay didn’t score through six frames, and it was disappointing to not see Yarbrough get the win. At the end of April, the left-hander’s ERA sat at 8.10, but overall, Yarbrough owns a 2.75 ERA in his last 11 appearances. What’s more, since June 18, he has allowed just three runs across 27-1/3 frames (0.99 ERA). Yarbrough is 8-3 with a 3.93 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, and 58 strikeouts in 75-2/3 innings this season. He is 5-0 with a 2.08 ERA across six games (one start) against Toronto, spanning 21-2/3 innings.
Jacob Waguespack allowed three runs on nine hits and no walks while striking out seven over 5-1/3 innings against the Tigers on Sunday. Waguespack was hittable, yet he generated 14 swinging strikes while notching plenty of strikeouts. Waguespack’s ERA isn’t impressive (5.68), although he has a 3.94 xFIP and a 9.5 K/9 over four appearances this season. The hurler relies primarily on a whiffy 94 mph four-seam fastball and a 91 mph worm-killer cutter, while also mixing in a hard 80 mph 12/6 curveball, an 86 mph slider, a 92 mph sinker with little run and sink, and a whiffy 85 mph changeup with cutting action and a lot of backspin. He is 0-0 with a 4.50 ERA in one game (four innings) against the Rays this season. Key Matchups: Ji-Man Choi (1-2, RBI), Tommy Pham (1-2, 2B, RBI)
Jalen Beeks surrendered eight runs on seven hits — including three home runs — and two walks over 3-2/3 innings on Monday against the Red Sox. He struck out two. All three homers came in a disastrous seven-run third, as Beeks saw his winning streak snapped at 10. It served as a reminder of why Beeks is better out of the bulk role when he only faces opposing batters two times through the order. The southpaw now maintains a 3.69 ERA and 2.32 K/BB through 68-1/3 innings on the season. Beeks is 1-0 with a 3.86 ERA in three career outings (seven innings) against Toronto.
Ryan Borucki gave up four runs (two earned) on seven hits and four walks over 4-2/3 innings on Monday. He fanned three. After missing the first four months of the season, Borucki made his 2019 debut but looked like he needed a little more time to shake off the rust. The southpaw threw just 47 of 94 pitches for strikes (50% strike rate), and when he did find the plate he caught too much of it — four of the seven hits he allowed went for extra bases. Borucki is 0-3 with a 3.66 ERA in three career starts (19-2/3 innings) against the Rays. Key Matchups: Austin Meadows (1-2, HR, RBI, BB), Tommy Pham (2-7, 2 BB), Joey Wendle (1-4, 2B, RBI, 2 BB)
Yonny Chirinos allowed just two runs on six hits and no walks over 5-2/3 innings against the Red Sox on Tuesday. He struck out five. Chirinos all his damage on three hits and a wild pitch in the first inning, and settled in after that, allowing only three baserunners across the next four-plus frames. The right-hander has a 3.29 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, and a 4.25 K/BB across 117-2/3 innings. Chirinos is 2-0 with a 3.32 ERA in four career outings (one start) against the Blue Jays.
Aaron Sanchez allowed one run on five hits with zero walks and six strikeouts across five innings against Cleveland on Tuesday. The performance broke a 10-game losing streak. Before Tuesday, the last time Sanchez received anything but a loss was May 22, and the last time he captured a victory was April 27. Sanchez is 3-14 with a 6.06 ERA, 1.72 WHIP, and 89 strikeouts across 107 innings this season. Sanchez is 2-3 with a 2.02 ERA in his career against Tampa Bay, and 0-1 on the season after the Rays tagged him for six hits and two walks in a three-inning outing earlier this year. Key Matchups: Willy Adames (3-5), Travis d’Arnaud (1-1), Brandon Lowe (1-3, 2 BB), Austin Meadows (2-2, RBI), Tommy Pham (1-1, 2B)
— The Rays have recalled Michael Perez to add a bat and take Snell’s place on the roster for the time being. Brendan McKay is expected to be recalled in August.
— Second baseman/outfielder Brandon Lowe received a pain-relieving shot and will not do anything baseball-related for the next few days. Lowe has been out with a shin contusion since fouling a ball off his left leg on July 2.
What was initially considered a day-to-day injury for Lowe has turned into a lengthy stint on the IL. His status will be updated during this series.