The Tampa Bay Rays continue with their eight game homestand on Friday night as their American League foe from across the border Toronto Blue Jays fly into town for a three-game set Apr. 29-May 1.
In welcoming back the Jays for the second time this month and the first time since the teams met to open the 2016 season (Apr. 3-6) that saw the clubs split their four game series, the Rays (10-11, 2.5 GB) are hoping to capitalize on the Jays weaknesses this early going of the season.
Toronto (10-13, 3.5 GB) enters the weekend on a three-game losing streak having been swept by the Chicago White Sox and outscored 21-6. The three-game sweep was the first by an opponent at the Rogers Centre since 2013 when the Los Angeles Angels recorded the feat.
The dangerous bats have been silenced (hitting just .238 through 22 games) as apparent by their struggles against the White Sox where they struck out 31 times, scored just one run over 24 innings and were stymied in the final two games by Chris Sale and Jose Quintana as they combined to allow just one run on eight hits.
Through 22-games, the bats are striking out at a rate of 9.4 per game (second in the majors with 217 strikeouts) and it’s just not the bats that are troubling – the bullpen is having difficulties as the relief corps rank 12th in the AL with a 4.03 ERA and has allowed 19 of 37 inherited runners to score.
Tampa Bay comes into Friday’s opener having lost 3-1 in the final game of a three-game set against the Baltimore Orioles following a three game winning streak. Chris Tillman (2-1) silenced the Rays bats as he allowed just one run on two hits in 6-2/3 innings pitched while striking out a career high nine batters in route to his second win over the Rays this season.
Matt Moore (1-2) lost his second straight start despite giving up just three hits while striking out nine in seven innings of work. The big blow on the night was a fifth inning home run by former Rays farmhand and friend Joey Rickard who took Moore deep in which all three runs were scored on six pitches with two outs.
“He’s [Rickard] a tough out. Last year when I got to play with him for a month [in Durham], you could definitely see the professionalism with him in his preparation for the game and how he works his at-bats,” said Moore.
On the other hand, Moore can’t be blamed for the loss entirely as the Rays offense didn’t help the situation as they left more runners on base in scoring position than all the flavors at a local grocery store’s ice cream section.
Through the first three innings the Rays managed just two hits, both singles to Logan Forsythe and Logan Morrison. There were other opportunities to cash in on Tillman with the best coming in the fourth inning as the Rays had runners on first and second following a single to Forsythe and a walk to Corey Dickerson. But, Tillman retired Evan Longoria (fly out to center), Dickerson (strikeout) and Desmond Jennings (foul out) to end the threat.
The Rays next opportunity came in the ninth when Rays avoided their third shutout as Evan Longoria led off with a single and scored on Steve Pearce’s pinch-hit two-out RBI single. The one run was the Rays only hit with a runner in scoring position on the night and the only one in the three-game series as they were 1-for-17.
To open the Toronto series, the Rays will send Drew Smyly (1-2, 2.52 ERA) to the hill where he’ll be opposed by Aaron Sanchez (1-1, 3.33 ERA). Since giving up five runs in his start against the Jays earlier this month, Smyly has posted a 1.23 ERA in three outings since and has added 28 strikeouts over his last 22 innings.
Smyly is 6-2 with a 2.02 ERA in 15 starts against the Jays as a member of the Rays. He has limited Jose Bautista to a single in seven at-bats (currently mired in a 4-for-27 slump) and Edwin Encarnacion to two in seven at-bats. On the flip there is Josh Donaldson who hits left-handers at an alarming rate and probably none more than Smyly.
Career wise, Donaldson is 6-for-11 with two homers and two doubles off Smyly, including a solo shot in a 5-3 victory against the Rays on April 4. During that four-game series at Tropicana Field Donaldson hit two home runs and finished going 4-for-16 with seven strikeouts. Donaldson is tied for third in the AL with a .421 average off lefties and sports a .947 slugging percentage.
The Rays are also having offensive struggles and despite winning two of three from Baltimore, as the O’s held them in check to just six runs while batting .180 which included 27 strikeouts. 16 of the Rays last 19 runs have been scored with two outs and its .510 slugging percentage with two outs is tops in the AL.
Meanwhile, the Rays will get another chance at Sanchez who is coming off his worst start of the season as he went just 4-1/3 innings giving up a season-high 10 hits and six earned runs in an 8-5 loss to the Athletics last Friday. Sanchez pitch seven innings of one-run ball against the Rays on April 5 and picked up a no-decision in a 3-2 loss in which the bullpen blew a one-run lead.
The Rays are playing their fourth straight series against an East opponent while the Blue Jays have already played 17 games within the division
Evan Longoria is 1 for 11 against Sanchez
Steven Souza Jr. is batting .277 with five homers and a team-leading 11 RBIs heading into Friday’s game
The Rays are batting .220, last in the majors despite being tied for fifth in home runs (24) in the AL and have hit into the least double plays (8) in the majors.
Projected Starters/Broadcast and Radio Schedule
Fri., April 29 vs. TOR 7:10 p.m. Drew Smyly (1-2, 2.51) vs. Aaron Sanchez (1-1, 3.33) Fox Sports Sun | WDAE 620 AM, WGES 680 AM (Sp.)
Sat., April 30 vs. TOR 6:10 p.m. Chris Archer (1-4, 5.47) vs. J.A. Happ (3-0, 2.42) Fox Sports Sun | WDAE 620 AM, WGES 680 AM (Sp.)
Sun., May 1 vs. TOR 1:10 p.m. Jake Odorizzi (0-1, 3.58) vs. Marcus Stroman (3-0, 4.37) Fox Sports Sun | WDAE 620 AM, WAMA 1550 AM (Sp.)