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Blue Jays vs. Rays Series preview
Two AL East teams with different but real post-season goals
Friday (6:40 p.m.) – RH Chris Bassitt (14-8, 3.78) vs. RH Tyler Glasnow (9-6, 3.53)
Saturday (4:10 p.m.) – LH Hyun Jin Ryu (3-3, 2.62) vs. RH Zack Littell (3-6, 4.12)
Sunday (1:10 p.m.) – LH Yusei Kikuchi (10-6, 3.74) vs. RH Taj Bradley (5-7, 5.36)
Rays (94-60): While the Jays find themselves in a four-way tussle for three post-season berths, the Rays have kept pace in the division and, in fact, have closed ground on the Orioles, sitting just 1.5 games out of first place in the AL East. The division winner receives a bye into the ALDS, while the second-place team, as WC1, hosts a best-of-three vs. the No. 2 wild-card, currently occupied by the Jays. Easy to see that both Rays and Jays in this three-game weekend series are fully engaged and competing hard, which is what MLB wanted. The two-year-old three-wildcard format has allowed that to happen.
The Rays right now are absent their best starting pitcher, LH Shane McClanahan and their best position player, SS Wander Franco, and yet they keep on trucking towards October. The return to the rotation of RH Tyler Glasnow helps tremendously, while a deep bullpen is full of short-term studs, all useful in their role, for a couple of years, then, judging by the team’s history, likely to be tossed aside and replaced with a similar group at a cheaper cost. It’s the Rays Way.
There are Rays position players stepping up as needed. CF Manuel Margot has returned to the active roster in time to taunt and haunt the Jays, while SS Taylor Walls and C Rene Pinto are filling in the gaps and needs. 1B Yandy Diaz has been an all-star all season, while LF Randy Arozarena has faded, but is still a threat and is the face of this team. 3B Isaac Paredes (29HR/92RBI) always seems to step up when facing the Jays. The Trop is, of course, the Blue Jays little shop of horrors.
Blue Jays (85-68): The Jays control their own destiny in terms of reserving a spot on the post-season dance floor, needing to win six of the remaining nine games to ensure a wildcard berth. Not winning six is not the end. Toronto can still qualify with fewer wins, but they would need help, by either the Rangers or M’s dominating the 7-game set, or with those three teams losing against non-contenders.
The Jays are 3-4 vs. the Rays this year, but the tiebreaker is academic because the Magic Number with the Rays is 1 and the Rays would need to lose all six vs. the Jays and be swept by the Red Sox at Fenway, while the Jays would need to also sweep the Yankees. Clearly, both the Rays and Jays are competing hard – but for different prizes.
The Jays are 10-4 vs. the AL East since Aug. 2, so at least that ghost has been booed away from the equation. The Jays offence is still struggling to score runs, especially early in games, which makes the depth and strength of the Rays bullpen a real problem if Tampa Bay can get to the seventh inning with the lead. It seems UT Davis Schneider’s carriage that brought him to Boston in August has turned back into a pumpkin as he rides a 0-for-25 streak into the Trop. MGR John Schneider needs dormant veterans LF Daulton Varsho, C Alejandro Kirk, UT Whit Merrifield, 1B Vlad Guerrero Jr. and 3B Matt Chapman to step up and be at their very best. Look for CF Kevin Kiermaier to step up in at least one of these games playing at his old home and, more importantly, in games with impact.
Blue Jays remaining Schedule (9): @ Tampa Bay (3), vs. New York (3), vs. Tampa Bay (3).
Astros remaining Schedule (9): vs. Kansas City (3), @ Seattle (3), @ Arizona (3).
Mariners remaining Schedule (10): @ Texas (3), vs. Houston (3), vs. Texas (4).
Rangers remaining Schedule (10): vs. Seattle (3), @ Angels (3), @ Seattle (4).
AL Magic Numbers for Wild-Card …
*Texas and Seattle own tiebreaker vs. Blue Jays … Jays own tiebreaker vs. Astros.
*Magic number is a combination of Jays wins and opponent losses needed to clinch:
Jays vs. Astros: Magic number 9
Jays vs. Rangers: Magic number 10
Jays vs. Mariners: Magic number 10
Rays to clinch vs. Blue Jays: Magic number 1