The Tampa Bay Rays welcome the Toronto Blue Jays into the Trop, on Thursday, for a four-game set on the heels of a successful series win against the New York Yankees.
Over the Opening Series, Rays’ starters out-hurled their opponents, throwing 18-2/3 innings to New York’s 11-1/3. The ‘pen, somewhat surprisingly, was even sharper, allowing just one run in 8-1/3 innings over the three games, while fanning six and walking one.
For Tampa Bay, it was the first time since 2012 the team won an Opening Series — the same season the Rays beat the Yankees three straight.
Awesome series win, Rays manager Kevin Cash said. I think we played really good baseball three games.
The Blue Jays enter St. Pete with a series loss (against Baltimore) to their credit, although their pitching was solid. The Orioles managed to eke out a win on Wednesday without a single at-bat with runners in scoring position, doing so on the back of two home runs.
Two of the top defensive center fielders in baseball, Kevin Kiermaier and Kevin Pillar, will showcase their wares over the next four days. Pillar has struggled against Tampa Bay, with a career .229 batting average, and a meager .619 OPS. Kiermaier, on the contrary, has owned the Jays, hitting .335, with 31 runs and 22 RBI in 48 games.
Toronto went 8-11 against Tampa Bay in 2016 — 3-6 at Rogers Centre and 4-4 at Tropicana Field. And while the Trop used to be a graveyard for the Jays (10-35 from 2008 to 2012), but they have gone 18-21 there the past four seasons.
For the Rays, manager Kevin Cash will lean on starters Blake Snell, Matt Andriese, Chris Archer, and Jake Odorizzi over the next four days. The Blue Jays will counter with Marcus Stroman, Francisco Liriano, Aaron Sanchez, and Marco Estrada.
Blake Snell fanned 98 over 89 innings last season, so his stuff — a big curveball and a mid-‘90s fastball — is there. However, control problems are generally a big concern for Snell, who didn’t have an overly strong spring.
Marcus Stroman picked up MVP of the World Baseball Classic after a dominant start against Puerto Rico in the championship game. However, Stroman was beaten up over the first half of the 2016 season, and ended the year with a 4.34 ERA/3.71 FIP. Due to his 7.45 K/9 (9% SwK%), there’s not a lot of reason to believe Stroman will be an elite strikeout pitcher. In spite of all that, Stroman led the Blue Jays in innings pitched, and pitched well in the Playoffs. As Mike Sonne (FanGraphs) pointed out, the optimism for Stroman in 2017 comes from his ERA in 2016 being nearly a full run above what his Deserve Run Average, and (DRA = 4.34), and xFIP (4.12) claimed they should be. Key matchups: Peter Bourjos (2-3, 3B), Corey Dickerson (4-14,2 2B, HR, 2 RBI), Evan Longoria (8-22, 2 2B, 2 HR, 4 RBI, BB)
Matt Andriese begins the season as the number five starter, after shuffling between the starting rotation and the bullpen last season. Andriese, who also didn’t have the strongest of springs, went 3-4 with a 4.18 ERA at Tropicana Field in 2016, and is 0-1 with a 4.05 ERA in seven career appearances against Toronto.
Francisco Liriano is coming off a dominant spring that saw a lot of whiffs and fewer walks than previous years. Yet the southpaw must continue to work on command if he is to be successful as he enters the final season of his contract. Liriano had an ERA of 2.92/3.98 FIP in 8 starts (10 total games) with Toronto last season. He has been the model of inconsistency, and that inconsistency could bode well for the Rays on Friday. Key matchups: Peter Bourjos (9-31, 3 2B, 3B, 3 RBI, 2 BB), Corey Dickerson (1-2, RBI, BB), Evan Longoria (6-19, 2 2B, HR, 3 RBI, BB), Brad Miller (1-3, HR, RBI)
Chris Archer posted a strong Opening Day performance on Sunday, holding the Yankees to two runs in seven innings to earn his first win of the season. Archer struck out five and walked one. Last season he went 1-1 with a 3.09 ERA in four starts against Toronto.
Aaron Sanchez opens as the fifth starter following a slightly delayed start to the spring due to a finger injury. Sanchez was the AL ERA leader last season, and possesses electric stuff — although his strikeout-to-walk ratio and tendency, and a problem with homers to left-handed hitters are his main weaknesses — and could repeat or even improve upon last season’s performance. Key matchups: Kevin Kiermaier (3-7, 2B), Jesus Sucre (2-3, 2B)
Jake Odorizzi, after retiring six of the first seven hitters he faced, ran into trouble in the third inning. The right-handed hurler gave up a two-run blast to Ronald Torreyes in the third inning before allowing another homer to Chase Headley one out into the sixth. All told, Odorizzi gave up four runs on seven hits, including two home runs, and two walks while striking out four over six innings.
Marco Estrada somehow has out pitched his peripherals. His 88 mph fastball and 8.5 K/9 outwardly make no sense, yet the past two seasons have been great for Estrada. When he’s healthy, he can pitch deeply into games, get average to above average strike outs, and control his walks. However, when he loses his command and control he becomes a home run pitcher because of his affinity for pitching up in the zone. Key matchups: Corey Dickerson (4-8, 2 RBI, 2 BB), Logan Morrison (3-11, 3B, HR, 4 RBI)
— Colby Rasmus’ rehab stint with the Charlotte Stone Crabs starts Thursday.
— Charlotte StoneCrabs (@StoneCrabs) April 6, 2017
— ….So, we (Baseball Forever) made a pretty big announcement on Wednesday, and then we celebrated at Ferg’s! Unaware of our announcement? You can find out more here.