The Rays averaged 16,882 fans per game over the four-game set against the Tigers. (Photo Credit: X-Rays Spex)

After splitting a four-game series with the Tigers, the Tampa Bay Rays will be out for blood when they start a three-game series against the Toronto Blue Jays on Monday, at the Trop. The Blue Jays took two-of-three from the Twins over the weekend.

At 92-58 on the season, the Rays enter play 34-games above .500 and 6.5 games up in the division. They also have a magic number of four to clinch a playoff berth (over Oakland), and six to win the American League East. Meanwhile, it’s make or break time for Toronto, which holds a slim 1.5 game lead over the Yankees, and a 2.0 game lead over the Athletics in the AL Wildcard race.

This series pairs the second and third highest scoring teams in baseball; Houston has moved past both teams. Neither team has performed to the height of their capabilities against their respective opponents over the weekend. Yet, neither walked away with a series loss. For the Rays, it was a tale of two halves of the same set. They put up 12 runs in the first 18 innings of the four-game set against the Tigers, yet just three runs in the final 18 frames including none on Sunday. Since Wander Franco hit the Injured List on September 10th, the Rays have scored three runs or fewer in five of the last nine games.

As for Toronto, while they walked away with two wins versus a sub .500 ballclub, they only outscored the Twins by one run over the life of the series. This is the same team that has put up 103 runs over the last two weeks, including a +8 run differential against the Rays just a week ago. That’s not to say the Jays aren’t scary good, they are — the numbers bear that out. However, Toronto’s production will slow down at some point, and if you’re Tampa Bay, whose pitching staff has tightened up over the last few games, you hope that time is now.

Put bluntly, the Rays are in the throes of an insipid 8-and-10 month of September. And as with the month of June, when the team promoted Wander Franco in part to light the proverbial fire during an 8-and-11 spate of play, Tampa Bay is promoting their current No. 1 prospect, Shane Baz, who will take the mound in the first game of this series.

Whatever the case, the Rays should clinch a postseason berth at some point between Monday and Wednesday (the earliest they could clinch at least a Wildcard berth is Tuesday), and win the division during the homestand. Suffice it to say, the better they perform against Toronto, the sooner they can punch their postseason ticket.

PITCHING PROBABLES

Over the next three days, Kevin Cash will turn to Shane Baz (3-0, 1.76 ERA at Triple-A Durham), Drew Rasmussen (3-1, 3.00 ERA), and a pitcher to be named before the series finale on Wednesday. Charlie Montoyo will counter with Robbie Ray (12-5, 2.64 ERA), Alek Manoah (6-2, 3.39 ERA), and a pitcher to be named before the series finale on Wednesday.

Shane Baz, the Rays No. 1 prospect (No. 20 0verall) not only tore through Double-A and Triple-A this season, but he also appeared in the 2021 Olympics for Team USA. Baz posted a 1.76 ERA and a 3.32 FIP, with a 0.85 WHIP, and a 5.82 K/BB over 46 innings at Triple-A after opening the season with the Double-A Montgomery Biscuits.

What should you expect out of Baz?

The right-hander’s fastball sits around 97 mph and can touch triple-digits when he really rears back. He also leans on a mid-80s slider with good, hard bite that right-handed batters have a hard time squaring up. His changeup grades at 45/50 according to FanGraphs, and boasts enough fade to be a weapon against left-handers. Baz also rarely throws a curveball which the organization has had him rely on less and less over the years.

Robbie Ray allowed one run on four hits over seven innings against the Rays on Wednesday. He struck out 13 without walking a batter. The southpaw continues to plow through the opposition, regardless of who he’s facing. Ray has fanned double-digit batters in five of his last six starts, lowering his ERA to 2.64 and WHIP to 1.01 while taking the MLB lead in strikeouts at 233 and bolstering his Cy Young case. On the season, Ray maintains a 2.64 ERA and a 3.36 FIP, with a 1.02 WHIP, and a 5.30 K/BB across 177.1 innings. Key Matchups: Yandy Díaz (4-16, 3 2B, 2 BB), Kevin Kiaermaier (1-4), Austin Meadows (2-6, 2 2B, RBI)

Drew Rasmussen got the start against Toronto on Tuesday and pitched five scoreless frames. The right-hander surrendered two hits and one walk while striking out three. Rasmussen was able to limit the damage to just three baserunners, none of which got past second base.

He only threw 52 pitches (35 strikes, 67% strike rate) in the contest as the team continues to limit his innings likely due to the fact that he leans heavily on a two-pitch mix. Even so, Rasmussen attacked the strike zone, and challenged hitters with high-octane fastballs, giving the Rays a chance to win. Since the All-Star Break, Rasmussen has posted a 2.04 ERA, a 1.04 WHIP, and a 3.5 K/BB.

Alek Manoah gave up one hit over eight scoreless innings against the Rays on Monday. He struck out 10 without walking a batter. The rookie right-hander retired 14 consecutive batters to start the game before Joey Wendle lined a two-out single in the fifth inning, a knock Manoah requited by plunking Wendle in the eighth inning — the only other baserunner he allowed all night. That hit by pitch may have factored into Charlie Montoyo’s decision to pull the right-hander after 97 pitches (62 strikes, 64% strike rate) rather than letting Manoah go for a complete game shutout. On the season he maintains a 3.39 ERA and a 3.89 FIP, with a 1.03 WHIP, and a 3.29 K/BB through 93 innings. Key Matchups: Francisco Mejía (1-4, 2B), Joey Wendle (2-7)

Michael Wacha coughed up six runs on seven hits and two walks over six innings against the Blue Jays on Wednesday. He struck out five. After a handful of solid outings, Wacha turned in a dud. The right-hander never really recovered from a first-inning three-run blast to Bo Bichette, although he was able to hang on for six innings to help save the bullpen a little. Wacha carries a 5.56 ERA and a 4.72 FIP, with a 3.89 K/BB, and a 1.40 WHIP through 111.2 innings on the season.

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