Toronto Blue Jays vs. Tampa Bay Rays
May 16 – May 18
In recent history, no team has a more well earned reputation for being a thorn in the Blue Jays’ side than the Tampa Bay Rays. It has been 10 years since the Toronto club dominated the season series and only once in the last nine (2014) have they edged above .500. The caveat to this, of course, is that this record of failure is driven largely by doing really poorly in Tampa. Fortunately for the Blue Jays, this one is at home. The last time Tampa came here, the series ended with a walk-off home run from Josh Donaldson in the final regular season home game of the 2015 season.
This series will be watched all the more closely to see how the Blue Jays react to the insanity of yesterday’s 8th inning in Texas. In the past such events have served as motivational sparks to ignite an under preforming team (or at least that’s the perception). While the Blue Jays have played somewhat better of late, they still stand in need of an extended run of well above-average play.
Monday, May 16th – 7:07pm ET
LHP Drew Smyly vs. LHP J.A. Happ
Tuesday, May 17th – 7:07pm ET
RHP Chris Archer vs. RHP Marcus Stroman
Wednesday, May 18th – 7:07pm ET
Additions and Subtractions
Toronto continues to have a bullpen in flux when it comes to southpaw relievers. Brett Cecil hit the DL after Saturday’s appearance and while he hasn’t really been Brett Cecil, it’s a serious inconvenience to be reduced to just one LH reliever – a rookie with six major league innings. In his place the team selected the contract of Dustin Antolin, to which most of social media responded “Who?”
Antolin is, in fact, the second longest serving player in the Toronto organization behind only…Brett Cecil. They are the last two remaining players drafted by the JP Ricciardi regime. The 26 year old native of Hawaii, drafted in the 9th round in 2008, had Tommy John surgery in 2010 and he took a little while to regain the strike zone consistently. He was beginning to get noticed again in the first half of 2013 but a mid-May promotion to AA went sideways when he lost his command of the strike zone (five three-walk relief outings). That proved to be an outlier, as he brought his BB/9 rate down to 3.16 in 2014 (to go with a 10.96 K/9). He almost quit baseball last winter when he hit the minor league free agent market this past offseason and lingered into the new year unsigned. Maybe he was discouraged because after that fine 2014 season the Blue Jays made him repeat AA. Whatever the case, he’s in the majors now and maybe he’ll get a chance to test his stuff against Tampa Bay.
In the visitor lineup the name you won’t see is Logan Forsythe. The Rays best hitter was hit in the left shoulder blade by a Felix Hernandez pitch on Monday and suffered a hairline fracture. He’ll be out a few weeks. Most of the playing time in his absence has been going to former top prospect Tim Beckham. Another familiar name that will be missing is that of one time Blue Jays prospect (drafted one round before Antolin, in fact) Danny Farquhar who has been shuttled back and forth to AAA this season and is currently off the Tampa roster.
Keep an Eye On
The Inherited Runners
The Toronto bullpen seemed to be moving past their former issue with inherited runners until Jesse Chavez failed to hold a lead for Aaron Sanchez on Sunday. It might be time to increase the responsibility of Joe Biagini, as he seems to be the only reliable reliever outside of the current setup/closer duo of Gavin Floyd and Roberto Osuna. With the team hamstrung by the lack of LH options, the fans will surely be tugging their collars if any starter leaves the game with runners on.
The Surprising Hot Bats
Justin Smoak, owner of a six game hit streak and ten game on base streak, along with Michael Saunders who has showing no signs of slowing, have been carrying the Jays slowly recovering offense while Jose Bautista and Josh Donaldson have been mired in deep slumps. Troy Tulowitzki also has begun showing signs of life with eight hits in his last five games, including three home runs. The mini hot streak has finally pushed his season batting average up to .200.
With the recent injury to Logan Forsythe, Brandon Guyer has taken over the top spot in the lineup. In addition to being a consistent pest to the Blue Jays, Guyer has this year taken to hurting the rest of the league (and himself) as well. The league leader in hit by pitches at 12 hit two home runs yesterday and has risen his overall batting line to .338/.488/.577. He’s going to be a key out for this team, as the rest of the Tampa offense leaves much to be desired.
The Impending Edicts
MLB will likely waste no time handing down punishment for the Texas fiasco. It’s fairly likely that all Jays suspensions will initially be appealed in order to give the team maneuverability with when they are served (you cannot recall a minor leaguer to fill in during a suspension), so these announcements may not impact the Tampa series. Look for someone to serve if they are hit with a one game ban, but anything more than that will likely be drawn out.
|1 Brandon Guyer – LF
|1 Kevin Pillar – CF
|2 Brad Miller – SS
|2 Josh Donaldson – 3B
|3 Evan Longoria – 3B
|3 Jose Bautista – RF
|4 Corey Dickerson – DH
|4 Edwin Encarnacion – DH
|5 Steven Souza – RF
|5 Justin Smoak – 1B
|6 Logan Morrison – 1B
|6 Troy Tulowitzki -SS
|7 Tim Beckham/Steve Pearce – 2B
|7 Michael Saunders – LF
|8 Kevin Kiermaier – CF
|8 Russell Martin – C
|9 Curt Casali / Hank Conger – C
|9 Ryan Goins – 2B
via Roster Resource
Over the last 1/10th of the current season, since the horrible White Sox series, the Blue Jays are 9-7. This is possibly a sign things are beginning to turn, but the next 10 games represent an opportunity to regain some of their lost swagger and the team would be well served to seize the moment.
Lead Photo: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports