Going to miss this pregame sky over the next week-plus. (Photo Credit: X-Rays Spex)

After dropping both games of a two-game set against Milwaukee, the Tampa Bay Rays look to snap ta two-game skid when they start a five-game, four-day set against the Blue Jays. Toronto is coming off a series win against Boston, having won two of three.

At 40-34 on the season, the Rays enter play six games over .500, and 1.5 games back of the third-place Blue Jays.

It was a frustrating, albeit par for the course — at least of late — series against the Brewers. Of the 10 runs Tampa Bay relinquished, eight came with two outs. In short, the Rays’ pitching staff got close to, but couldn’t maintain leads they were staked to. Tampa Bay’s offense also couldn’t get that big, all-important hit, having gone 2-for-19 with runners and scoring position, while stranding 15 runners on base across both games.

The Blue Jays and Red Sox beat up on one another the last three days with Toronto ultimately gaining one game on Boston. And while the Blue Jays pitching staff has been utter crap — performing to a combined 4.58 ERA and 4.73 FIP (a starters 4.75 ERA and 5.27 FIP, and a relievers 4.37 ERA and 4.01 FIP) over the last week — Vladdy Jr. and company were able to put up 18 runs against the Red Sox and go 12-for-36 wRISP while driving in eight two-out runs.

Make no mistake about it, Toronto’s offense is potent, however, the pitching staff is clearly the weakest link, and as a result, the Jays have gone 5-5 record over the last 10 games, and 6-9 over the last 15. If Tampa Bay can neutralize the Blue Jays’ offense — and make no mistake about it, they have been able to do that effectively in the past — they will have a great opportunity to gain some ground in the division.

The Rays are 2-1 against the Blue Jays this season.

Pitching Probables

The Rays and the Blue Jays (to some extent) have not named who will pitch when, so take the probable pitchers below with a grain of salt. I will undoubtedly update this piece as things become more apparent.

That being said, over the next four days, Kevin Cash will lean on Jeffrey Springs (3-2, 2.25 ERA), Corey Kluber (3-4, 3.45 ERA), Shane McClanahan (8-3, 1.77 ERA), Drew Rasmussen (5-3, 3.41 ERA), and Shane Baz (0-1, 3.38 ERA). Charlie Montoyo will counter with Yusei Kikuchi (2-4, 5.08 ERA), Jose Berrios (5-4, 5.86 ERA), Kevin Gausman (6-6, 2.93 ERA), a pitcher to be named before the second game of Saturday’s doubleheader, and Ross Stripling (4-2, 3.12 ERA).

Jeffrey Springs allowed three runs on three solo shots among seven hits over six innings on Friday against the Pirates. He struck out a season-high nine without walking a batter. The Rays staked Springs to a 3-0 lead in the first inning, but the southpaw’s inability to keep the ball in the park ended up costing him a win despite his otherwise impressive performance. He’s served up multiple homers in three of his last six starts, but he’s otherwise been sharp, maintaining a 2.25 ERA and a 3.35 FIP on the season, with a 1.00 WHIP and a 5.00 K/BB across 60 innings. Springs is a career 1-0 with a 3.07 ERA against the Blue Jays across eight outings (one start).

Yusei Kikuchi allowed five runs on six hits while striking out five and walking one over two innings against Milwaukee. Kikuchi gave up five runs (two earned) to the Brewers. He threw 43 of 69 pitches for strikes across just two innings (62% strike rate). Kikuchi has not reached five innings pitched in a game since May 25 and has met that mark only five times this season. The left-hander allowed at least two earned runs for the 11th time this season and maintains a 5.08 ERA and a 5.85 FIP on the season, with a 1.59 WHIP and a 1.89 K/BB across 56.2 innings. He relies primarily on a whiffy 95 mph four-seam fastball and an 86 mph slider that has some two-plane movement, while also mixing in a 90 mph cutter that has some natural sink and strong cutting action, and a hard 87 mph changeup that has surprising cut action. Kikuchi is 2-0 with a 1.38 ERA in two career starts against the Rays. Key Matchups: Randy Arozarena (2-6, HR, RBI), Wander Franco (1-3), Harold Ramirez (2-3), Taylor Walls (1-2, 2B, BB)

Corey Kluber surrendered two runs on five hits while striking out six across 5.1 innings 0n Saturday against the Pirates. Kluber was effective, tossing 47 of his 63 pitches for strikes (75% strike rate). Diego Castillo took him deep in the top of the third inning while Bryan Reynolds singled in another run later in the frame, accounting for all the damage against him. Kluber has now surrendered three runs or fewer in eight consecutive starts, producing a 2.70 ERA over those contests. The 36-year-old now owns a 3.45 ERA and a 3.58 FIP, with a 1.08 WHIP, and 66 strikeouts over 73 innings (14 starts) on the season. Kluber is 2-4 with a 4.50 ERA in 10 career starts against Toronto.

Jose Berrios allowed eight runs on eight hits while striking out one and walking two across 2.2 innings on Sunday against the Brewers. It was another rough outing for Berrios as he allowed eight runs in 2.2 innings just one game after allowing six runs across four. Berrios threw 42 of 66 pitches for strikes (64% strike rate) in Sunday’s contest. The right-hander has allowed three or more earned runs in nine of 15 appearances this season and possesses a 5.86 ERA and a 5.27 FIP, with a 1.39 WHIP, and a 3.20 K/BB over 78.1 innings on the season. Berrios is 0-3 with a 5.76 ERA in five career starts against Tampa Bay. Key Matchup: Randy Arozarena (1-3)

Shane McClanahan struck out 10 while allowing one run on four hits in seven innings against the Pirates. McClanahan spent the day confusing hitters and inducing weak contact as he dominated Pittsburgh’s lineup. After he allowed a one-out double in the fourth, the southpaw retired the final 11 batters he faced. Over his last nine starts, McClanahan has a 1.07 ERA and 12.67 K/BB in 59 innings and has tossed at least six frames while allowing two earned runs or fewer in each appearance. He is 0-1 with a 3.14 ERA in three career starts against the Blue Jays.

Kevin Gausman surrendered four hits and two walks over seven shutout innings on Monday against Boston. He struck out 10. Gausman allowed just one extra-base hit — a double by Rafael Devers that took an odd hop off second base — yet rarely faced trouble in the outing. It was his first scoreless start since May 24 and his second of the season with double-digit strikeouts. The 31-year-old carries a 2.93 ERA and a 1.70 FIP, with a 1.24 WHIP, and a 6.47 K/BB across 86.0 innings on the season. Gausman is 0-1 with a 3.86 ERA in one start against the Rays this season and 7-7 with a 3.99 ERA in 16 career starts against the Rays. Key Matchup: Taylor Walls (1-3)

Drew Rasmussen was placed on the 15-day injured list with a left hamstring strain back on June 12. The right-hander was dominant in late April and early May but struggled from the end of May and into June, posting a 5.59 ERA and 1.60 WHIP in 19.1 innings over his last four starts. All told, Rasmussen maintains a 3.41 ERA and a 3.89 FIP, with a 1.14 WHIP, and a 3.06 K/BB on the season. Rasmussen is 0-0 with a 1.59 ERA in one 5.2-inning outing against the Rays.


Shane Baz allowed a run on three hits and two walks while striking out six across 5.2 innings against the Brewers on Tuesday. Baz held the Brewers scoreless through the first five frames, scattering two singles and two walks. After allowing a leadoff single in the sixth, he fanned the next two batters but was removed from the ballgame, having thrown a season-high 95 pitches. Matt Wisler came in and promptly allowed a pair of two-out, two-run homers. Baz has been excellent over his last three starts, allowing two runs in 16.1 innings while posting a 4.75 K/BB. Overall, Baz maintains a 3.38 ERA and a 3.56 FIP, with a 1.02 WHIP, and a 3.00 K/BB across 18.2 innings on the season. He is 1-0 with a 3.60 ERA in one career start against Toronto.

Ross Stripling struck out three in five innings on Tuesday while allowing two runs on five hits and a walk. Stripling allowed a solo homer to Trevor Story in the second inning and consecutive hits to begin the fifth, leading to another run. He was removed after five innings after having tossed 81 pitches rather than face the heart of Boston’s order for the third time. It was a good start for the 32-year-old, who’s compiled a 1.75 ERA and 4.25 K/BB in 25.2 innings over five starts in June. All told, Stripling maintains a 3.12 ERA and a 3.06 FIP, with a 1.08 WHIP, and a 3.83 K/BB across 57.2 innings on the season. The veteran hurler relies primarily on a 92 mph four-seam fastball, 82 mph changeup, and an 87 mph worm-killer slider, while also mixing in a 76 mph 12-6 curveball, and a 90 mph sinker that has little sinking action. He is 0-2 with a 3.80 ERA in seven career outings (two starts) against the Rays. Key Matchups: Ji-Man Choi (1-3, 5 BB), Francisco Mejia (2-5, 2B, RBI, BB)


— The Rays will receive some reinforcements in the next few days. Kevin Kiermaier (left hip inflammation) played six innings in centerfield and had three plate appearances (walk, two flyouts) for the Rookie-level FCL Rays on June 28, and is expected to be activated from the Injured List on Friday. Drew Rasmussen (left hamstring strain) threw three innings of live batting practice in Port Charlotte on June 26 and is expected to start over the weekend.

— Prior to the start of the series, the Rays made a flurry of roster moves to account for two players who are not vaccinated, and thus could not cross the border into Canada. The team placed LHP Brooks Raley and RHP Ryan Thompson on the Restricted List and added RHP Javy Guerra and RHP Phoenix Sanders to the active roster. They also placed LHP Jeffrey Springs on the Family Medical Emergency List and recalled LHP Ryan Yarbrough from Triple-A Durham.