After sweeping the Red Sox in Boston, the Tampa Bay Rays made their way to Toronto, where they will get one last tuneup before the postseason. The Blue Jays, most recently, dropped two of three three to the Yankees.
At 97-52 on the season, the Rays enter play a season-high-tying 35 games over .500 with three games left to play.
Tampa Bay has earned the first AL Wildcard spot and a date with the second Wildcard seed which could be Houston or Toronto. The Rays played the Blue Jays last weekend and dropped two of three bouts due to weak pitching. However, they rebounded by sweeping the Red Sox. The Rays are 5-5 in their last 10 contests.
Despite myriad injuries, Tampa Bay continues to find ways to win games, winning three of their last four clashes. In so doing, they have put up a .298 BA/.356 OBP/.450 SLG/.806 OPS slash line over the last seven days, with a 127 wRC+. Both Randy Arozarena and Robert Stevenson returned to live action on Wednesday, and Yandy Díaz could return this weekend. Whatever the case, Kevin Cash is expected to continue rolling out “The Kids” for a couple of reasons: 1. He, and the front office, are treating the last few regular season contests like Spring Training in order to see who will or won’t earn a spot on the playoff roster, and 2. To rotate players into, and out of, the lineup in order to keep those, who likely will crack the postseason roster, fresh. And no, much to Rays Zaddy’s chagrin, don’t expect the triumphant return of Wander Franco.
Meanwhile, the Blue Jays have been inconsistent and just lost the opening two games of their series against the Yankees, while scoring no runs. They still have a chance to finish with a Wildcard spot as they stood two games ahead of the Mariners entering Thursday night, and have won seven of the last 10 games. Even so, over the last week, Toronto has put up a lackluster .190 BA/.270 OBP/.330 SLG/.600 OPS with a 66 wRC+ and a -6.6 wRAA.
The Rays enter play with an overall 3.83 ERA and 3.78 FIP (3.89 ERA and 3.60 FIP for the starters, 3.76 ERA, and 3.99 FIP for the relievers). Tampa Bay has improved since last weekend, putting up a 4.83 ERA and 3.66 FIP over the last week (4.09 ERA and 3.01 FIP for the starters, but a 6.00 ERA and a 4.69 FIP for the relievers).
Toronto’s pitching staff has put up a 3.75 ERA and 4.06 FIP on the season (3.80 ERA and 4.15 FIP for the starters, 3.67 ERA, and 3.91 FIP for the relievers). Those numbers have regressed over the last seven days, pitching to a combined 4.61 ERA and a 4.15 FIP (4.81 ERA and a 4.12 FIP for the starters, 4.26 ERA and a 4.20 FIP for the relievers).
Tampa Bay is 5-5 against Toronto this season, with a -16 run differential.
Over the next three days, Kevin Cash is expected to turn to Aaron Civale (2-2, 5.36 ERA, 3.35 FIP), Zack Littell (3-6, 3.68 ERA, 3.96 FIP), and Taj Bradley (5-8, 5.52 ERA, 4.72 FIP). John Schneider is expected to counter with Hyun-Jin Ryu (3-3, 3.31 ERA, 5.05 FIP), Yusei Kikuchi (10-6, 3.82 ERA, 4.08 FIP), and Kevin Gausman (12-9, 3.16 ERA, 2.97 FIP).
Aaron Civale allowed six runs on seven hits and no walks while striking out seven batters over three innings against the Angels. Civale fell behind 2-0 in the first inning and gave up four more runs in the second. Even though he bounced back to strike out three batters in a scoreless third, the right-hander wasn’t allowed to return for the fourth. This was Civale’s shortest outing of his season and snapped his streak of seven consecutive starts of at least five frames. One positive takeaway is that Civale continued his recent strikeout binge — he’s struck out 44 over his past 28.1 frames covering six starts.
Hyun-Jin Ryu coughed up five runs on seven hits — including three homers — and three walks over 4.1 innings on Saturday against the Rays. He struck out two. Two of the long balls came in the first inning when Ryu served up a solo shot to Yandy Díaz and a three-run blast to Josh Lowe. Ryu has failed to complete five innings in two straight starts, and he has a 4.32 ERA and a 6.22 FIP, with a 1.44 WHIP, and 1.89 K/BB through 25 innings in September. Key Matchups: Randy Arozarena (4-8, 2 2B, BB), Christian Bethancourt (2-4, 2B, HR, 2 RBI), Junior Caminero (1-2, BB), Yandy Díaz (3-12, 2 HR, 2 RBI, 2 BB), Josh Lowe (2-3, HR, 3 RBI), Manuel Margot (6-23, 3 RBI), Harold Ramírez (5-10, 2 2B, RBI, 3 BB)
Zack Littell allowed two unearned runs on five hits and a walk over 5.2 innings against the Blue Jays. He struck out six. The right-hander came one out shy of his third quality start in five September outings. Littell sports a sharp 2.70 ERA and a 3.59 FIP, with a 1.00 WHIP, and an 11.00 K/BB through 30 innings in the month of September.
Yusei Kikuchi allowed three runs on nine hits over four innings against Tampa Bay. He struck out seven. Kikuchi’s now gone five straight starts without pitching more than five innings, and he appeared to be on a short leash Sunday, throwing just 73 pitches. Kikuchi maintains a 3.82 ERA and a 4.08 FIP, with a 1.27 WHIP, and 177 strikeouts on the season. Key Matchups: Randy Arozarena (4-16, HR, RBI, BB), Osleivis Basabe (1-1), Christian Bethancourt (2-4, RBI), Junior Caminero (1-2, RBI), Josh Lowe (1-4), Manuel Margot (4-15, 3B, RBI, BB), Curtis Mead (1-2), Isaac Paredes (3-11, HR, 4 RBI), Rene Pinto (1-3), Harold Ramírez (5-13, BB)
Taj Bradley allowed six runs on seven hits and two walks over seven innings against Toronto. He struck out four. Toronto did most of its damage against Bradley in the second inning, scoring five runs, including three on George Springer’s inside-the-park home run. The 22-year-old Bradley has now allowed four or more runs in three of his five starts since he was recalled from Triple-A earlier this month, pitching to a 5.14 ERA over that stretch.
Kevin Gausman allowed three hits and two walks over seven shutout innings against the Yankees. He struck out five. This marked Gausman’s second straight scoreless outing against New York after throwing six shutout innings in a win against the Bronx Bummers on Wednesday. Over the two starts, the 32-year-old righty was electric, recording 15 strikeouts over 13 innings while allowing six hits and five walks. All told, Gausman maintains a 3.16 ERA and a 2.97 FIP, with a 1.18 ERA, and a 4.31 FIP on the season. Key Matchups: Yandy Díaz (2-5, HR, 3 RBI, BB), Josh Lowe (1-1), Rene Pinto (2-4, RBI), Raimel Tapia (3-12, 2B, 2 RBI), Taylor Walls (2-6)