After a successful four-game series in Cleveland, where Tampa Bay won three of four, the Rays return to St. Pete where they will kick off an early week series against the Toronto Blue Jays, starting Monday afternoon. Toronto avoided a three-game sweep against the Padres with a win on Sunday after being pounded 19-4 on Saturday.
The Rays offense was consistently good in four of the last five contests, plating six runs or more per game. However, things look grim with runners in scoring position as Tampa Bay hit .184 wRISP in the last series and has a .243 wRISP batting average overall. For context, league average wRISP is in the ballpark of 31%-35%. In other words, when they drop close games, more often than not it is due to the fact that the Rays have left a lot of chicken on the bone. One need only to look at the 3-1 loss to Cleveland on Friday when they went 1-for-13 wRISP (.077 BA).
Even so, the Rays enter the series with the Blue Jays with the lowest overall team ERA in the American League and are 12 games over .500 for the first time this season. All this with more than a few key players on the IL.
If you would have told us this coming out of spring training, I think we would all have signed up for it. We’ve got a lot of, a lot of work to do. And a lot more that we’d like to accomplish. But we’ve got to be pretty happy with how we’ve positioned ourselves to this point. Every team has injuries. Ours, we have to find a way to overcome some of those, and I think the guys have done a really good job to this point of doing that.— Kevin Cash
This is a series the Rays should win ahead of a big, and important, four-game weekend set against Minnesota.
The Rays took two of three from the Blue Jays between April 12-14.
Kevin Cash will lean on Yonny Chirinos (5-1, 3.20 ERA), Ryan Yarbrough (3-1, 6.38 ERA) in some capacity, and Blake Snell (3-4, 3.07 ERA) over the next three days. Charlie Montoyo will counter with Aaron Sanchez (3-4, 3.79 ERA), Clayton Richard (0-0, 2.25 ERA), and Trent Thornton (1-4, 4.42 ERA).
Yonny Chirinos allowed one run on three hits while striking out two over 3-2/3 innings on Wednesday. Chirinos followed opener Ryne Stanek, who tossed the first 1-2/3 frames and shut down an aggressive Dodgers lineup. The right-hander has allowed three runs or fewer in each of his past seven appearances, allowing him to manage a 3.20 ERA with a 4.38 K/BB across 50-2/3 innings of work. A caveat: the right-hander allowed six runs on seven hits in 2-1/3 innings against the Blue Jays the last time he faced them (April 14).
Aaron Sanchez gave up two runs on four hits and two walks over six innings while striking out five on Wednesday. The blister issue that cut short his previous turn wasn’t evident this time around, as Sanchez threw 61 of 91 pitches for strikes (67% strike rate) in his third quality start of the season. Sanchez has been good at the Trop, going 1-1 with a 1.27 ERA in four career starts. He’ll take a 3.79 ERA and 1.77 K/BB through 57 innings into the series opener. Sanchez relies primarily on a 95 mph sinker with arm side run and a whiffy 79 mph curveball with sweeping glove-side movement, while also mixing in a whiffy 95 mph four-seam fastball, and a hard 89 mph changeup with obvious arm side fade. Key Matchups: Willy Adames (2-3), Kevin Kiermaier (4-15, 2B, 2 HR, 2 RBI), Brandon Lowe (1-2, BB)
Ryan Yarbrough limited Cleveland to two runs on four hits and a walk on Thursday while striking out four across 7-1/3 innings of work. Yarbrough looked sharp in his first start of the season after getting called up from Triple-A Durham, where he posted a solid 2.14 ERA through 21 innings of work. In his five previous appearances for the Rays this season, Yarbrough held an 8.10 ERA. The quality start on Thursday allowed him to lower his ERA to 6.38, with a 1.13 WHIP and a 3.6 K/BB.
Clayton Richard allowed one run on two hits and two walks across four innings on Thursday against the Red Sox. He struck out two. Richard made his season debut after recovering from an injury, and kept a dangerous Red Sox lineup in check, with the only blemish against him coming on a groundout in the third inning. The veteran was limited to just 54 pitches in what amounted to an efficient outing. He relies primarily on a 91 mph sinker with heavy sinking action and arm side run, and an 80 mph slider with exceptional depth. Key Matchup: Travis d’Arnaud (1-4, RBI)
Blake Snell allowed one run on four hits and three walks while striking out seven across 6-2/3 innings on Friday. The only run allowed by him came on a fourth inning on a solo homer to right field. Snell nearly managed to get through seven innings but was pulled with two outs in the seventh after 104 pitches (65 strikes, 63% strike rate). The southpaw has turned in quality starts in three of his last four outings, although he has not won decision since May 6 because the offense has given him just three runs of support. Snell owns a 3.07 ERA and 1.01 WHIP with a 5.2 K/BB over 55-2/3 innings of work this season. He shut down the Jays in April, limiting them to just one hit while striking out nine.
Trent Thornton gave up three runs on four hits and three walks while striking out 10 over six innings on Friday. Thornton surrendered two runs in the third inning and another in the fifth before exiting the contest. The right-hander was able to turn in his second consecutive quality start, although he wasn’t able to pick up the victory in either outing. Thornton carries a 4.42 ERA with 60 punchouts over 55 frames on the season. The Rays hammered the 25-year-old on April 12, touching him for five runs on eight hits (including three homers) and two walks in three innings of work. Key Matchups: Willy Adames (1-2), Ji-Man Choi (1-2, 2B), Avisail Garcia (2-2), Kevin Kiermaier (1-3, 3B, RBI), Brandon Lowe (1-2, HR, 2 RBI), Austin Meadows (2-2, 2HR, 2 RBI)