Coming off a 3-1 loss, yet a series win, against Baltimore, the Tampa Bay Rays welcome the Toronto Blue Jays into the Trop for a three-game series, starting Friday. Tampa Bay is playing its fourth straight series against an AL East opponent while Toronto has already played 17 games within the division.
The Rays could not complete a three-game sweep of the Orioles despite allowing just three hits in the series finale. However, Tampa Bay, which split a four-game series against Toronto to open the season, is 7-4 over its last 11 games. Over that stretch, leadoff hitter Logan Forsythe is batting .395. He ranks among the AL leaders with an overall .307 average, and has collected seven doubles and an impressive .935 OPS.
Rays manager Kevin Cash spoke about Forsythe with Marc Topkin (Tampa Bay Times), saying,
He’s been outstanding. Maybe I haven’t talked enough about him. We asked a guy who had a really good year to change up and go into that leadoff spot. Part of the reason why is we thought No. 1 it would get him more at-bats, but it was going to make us a better lineup. … He bought in, which kind of shows what he’s about, and the teammate he is. Then he goes and he just continued to knock the cover off the ball.
Still the Rays are searching for consistent offense after totaling six runs and batting .180 with 27 strikeouts, while winning two of three from Baltimore. There is a bright side though, Tampa Bay has scored 16 of its last 19 runs with two outs and its .510 slugging percentage with two outs is tops in the American League.
The sputtering Blue Jays, on the other hand, come in after being swept in three-games by the ChiSox. Toronto has dropped six of eight, and has fallen within one-half games of last place.
The Jays have totaled 217 strikeouts (second-most in the AL) and has a .225 batting average wRISP ― this, after leading the majors at .286 last season. They struck out 31 times in the three games against the south-siders. Adding insult to injury, the Jays have scored just one run in the last 24 innings.
Cash will start Drew Smyly (1-2, 2.51 ERA), Chris Archer (1-4, 5.47 ERA) and Jake Odorizzi (0-1, 3.58 ERA) this weekend.
Smyly is 1-1 with a 4.96 ERA in six career starts against Toronto. He, however, has thrown incredibly well this season, locating all four of his pitches and frequently getting ahead in the count. He is 3-2 with a 3.58 ERA in 13 outings at Tropicana Field.
Archer finally picked up his first win Monday against Baltimore, after allowing no runs in 6-2/3 innings. The ace located his pitches and got ahead in the count. And while he’s known for his fastball/slider combo, he successfully relied upon his changeup ― yet another potent weapon ― in that outing.
Odorizzi has shown to be adept at preventing the big inning and posses the ability to battle when he doesn’t have his best stuff, which he did Tuesday while holding the Orioles to one run in five innings. Now, if he can get ahead of batters and again become the efficient pitcher he was in 2015. This season righties are hitting .329 while lefties are batting .225 against Odorizzi.
Aaron Sanchez (1-1, 3.33 ERA) allowed a season-high 10 hits and six earned runs in his last outing, an 8-5 loss against Oakland. Then again he pitched seven innings of one-run ball against Tampa Bay on April 5th. The 23 year-old righty relies primarily on a 93 mph sinker, while mixing in an electric 95 mph four-seam fastball and an 80 mph curve. Sanchez went 0-1 with a 3.12 ERA over 8-2/3 innings against Tampa Bay last season. Key matchups: Hank Conger (1-2), Corey Dickerson (1-3, HR, RBI), Brandon Guyer (1-2) Kevin Kiermaier (2-4, 2B), Steve Pearce (1-4, BB)
JA Happ (3-0, 2.42 ERA) allowed three runs over seven innings on 92 pitches his last time out against Oakland. The southpaw is 1-1 with a 6.46 ERA in six starts at the Trop, although he allowed just two runs on seven scattered hits over six innings in a 3-5 loss on April 6th. Happ isn’t overpowering, yet he gets by by mixing his 93 mph four-seam fastball with an 85 mph cutter, 92 mph sinker, 79 mph curveball and an 86 mph change. Key matchups: Tim Beckham (2-6, RBI BB), Desmond Jennings (3-9, 2B, 3B, 2 RBI), Evan Longoria (8-21, 2 2B, RBI, 3 BB), Brad Miller (2-3), Logan Morrison (7-14, 3 2B, 4 RBI, BB), Steve Pearce (8-22, 2 2B, 3 HR, 9 RBI, BB), Steven Souza Jr. (3-6, 2B, HR, RBI)
Marcus Stroman (3-0, 4.37 ERA) has thrown at least six innings in seven of his last eight starts (dating back to 2015). He is 2-1 with a 4.74 ERA in three career starts against Tampa Bay, and this is the second time this year he will be matched up against them. In that outing, Stroman allowed three runs on five hits over eight frames. Stroman relies upon a 93 mph sinker, an 86 mph slider, an 83 mph curveball, an 85 mph change, a 90 mph cutter, and a 93 mph four-seam fastball. Key matchups: Curt Casali (2-3), Hank Conger (2-5, HR, 3 RBI, BB), Desmond Jennings (3-8, RBI), Kevin Kiermaier (2-8, 2B, RBI), Evan Longoria (5-9, 2B, HR, 3 RBI, BB), Steve Pearce (3-5, HR, RBI, BB), Steven Souza Jr.
― Steven Souza Jr. went 6-15 with three homers in the Opening Series against Toronto.
― Little steps… Logan Morrison has hit safely in four consecutive games, raising his average to .107.
― Evan Longoria is 1-11 against the right-handed Sanchez.
― Kevin Pillar is 8-18 during a five-game hitting streak, however, is 0-5 in his career vs. Smyly.
― Jose Bautista is mired in a 4-27 slump for Toronto.
― Josh Donaldson is tied for third in the AL with a .421 average off lefties, sporting a .947 SLG for one of baseball’s best marks.
― Check out the folks from the Process Report, who put together an excellent recap of the Rays/Orioles series.
― Now for the most important part of this series preview, GARY BUSEY IS THROWING OUT THE FIRST PITCH AT THE TROP FRIDAY NIGHT!!!!