Blue Jays vs. Rays Series preview
Fascinating permutations determine Wild Card seedings
Friday (7:07 p.m.) – RH Aaron Civale (7-4, 3.43) vs. LH Yusei Kikuchi (10-6, 3.82)
Saturday (3:07 p.m.) – RH Zack Littell (3-6, 3.68) vs. LH Hyun Jin Ryu (3-3, 3.31)
Sunday (3:07 p.m.) – RH Taj Bradley (5-8, 5.52) vs. *RH Kevin Gausman (12-9, 3.16)
Blue Jays remaining Schedule: vs. Tampa Bay (3).
Astros remaining Schedule: @ Arizona (3).
Mariners remaining Schedule: vs. Texas (3).
Rangers remaining Schedule: @ Seattle (3).
What’s left for these two teams to play for: Rays locked up Wildcard 1 tucked in behind the division-winning O’s and will host a 3-game wildcard series with a WC2 opponent to be determined.
The Jays enter the final weekend with 3 possible outcomes – WC 2, WC 3 or “Hey, Mike Shaw, can you book me a flight home?” Jays fate is in their own hands … but they may also need help.
*If the Jays go 2-1 vs. the Rays they won’t need help, will clinch WC2 and play at the Trop. That would eliminate the charges of backing into the playoffs.
*Dreaded four-way tie. Of course, there’s also a worst-case scenario. If the Jays manage to go just 1-2 vs. Rays, plus if Astros win 2 of 3 in Phoenix and M’s sweep the 3 remaining from Rangers, it creates a mind-blowing 4-way tie for ALW plus WC2 and WC3 at 89 Ws. Jays would be the team eliminated due to the tie-breaker.
*If the Jays go 1-2 against the Rays, fear not, they can still qualify. It would require the M’s to drop any 1 of the final 3 vs. the Rangers. At that point with 1 Jays win and 1 Mariners loss, the Jays could be playing as either WC2 or WC3 depending on the outcome of Astros/Diamondbacks series. If the Astros would sweep, under that scenario, the Jays end up at WC3 and fly to Minneapolis.
*How about if Jays are 0-3 vs. the Rays? In a bizarre twist, the Jays could still earn (?) a playoff berth if they are swept. That ultimate moonwalk into October happens if the Astros go 1-2 for a final total 88 wins or are swept in Arizona (87W) or if the M’s lose 2 to the Rangers for 87 wins or are swept in the final 3 (86W). Any one of those two Astros/M’s/Rangers outcomes will get the Jays in even if swept.
*Simple, right? One thing is certain. Even if the Jays win Friday night, they can’t possibly be popping champagne until the West Coast games later in the night are complete … at the earliest.
Rays (97-62): The Rays have already staged their own raucous clubhouse celebration, earning the top wildcard with the accompanying prize of hosting the ALWC series. They may be mellowed out with less to play for than the Jays. MGR Kevin Cash will likely be using the series at Rogers Centre to set up his rotation for next Tuesday-to-Thursday, with RH Tyler Glasnow and RH Zach Eflin resting up for Games 1-2.
The Rays have been without their best starting pitcher, LH Shane McClanahan and their best position player, SS Wander Franco, and yet they kept on trucking towards October. A deep Rays bullpen is forever full of short-term studs. They will see a lot of action this weekend. RH Jason Adam is on the IL. There is also a chance for Cash to rest any of his banged-up position players, so look for a healthy dose of IFs Curtis Mead, Jonathan Aranda and Osleivis Basabe, plus maybe a start from old friend, OF Raimel Tapia. 1B Yandy Diaz has been bruised and could use some rest. INF Isaac Paredes loves facing the Jays. The series means more to the Jays.
Blue Jays (88-71): The huge batting order change that was introduced on Thursday with SS Bo Bichette moving down to cleanup and DH Brandon Belt moving up to the 2-hole paid dividends in a 6-0 win over the Yankees, salvaging the final game of the series, but the Jays need to see more positive results against better pitching to truly judge the change and feel that it’s been mission accomplished.
The starting rotation flip, moving LH Yusei Kikuchi ahead of LH Hyun Jin Ryu to Game 1 of the weekend series on Friday shows the urgency that MGR John Schneider has placed in recording a win early in the Rays series, given all the dangerous permutations and combinations of WC2 and WC3.
The Kikuchi move also indicates the lefty will have a role in the Wildcard Series likely in long relief, with Gausman, Bassitt and Berrios the three most likely starters against the Rays or Twins. Ryu will pitch Saturday and may very well be left off the WC series roster, since they will not need a fourth starter. Sunday’s listed starter, Kevin Gausman will only be asked to pitch if the Jays need the game to qualify for the playoffs. If they are already in, Gausman will be bumped in favour of a bullpen game.
The Jays are 5-5 vs. the Rays this year. Are 13-7 vs. the AL East since Aug. 2, so that demon may have been exorcised from the equation. The Jays are 20-29 intra-division. The Jays offence is still struggling to score runs, especially early on in games. In the combined first innings of the past 8 games, the Jays have 1 hit, 1 walk and 0 runs. They need faster starts with the top of the order supposedly potent. Stay tuned.