The Toronto Blue Jays play the middle game of their road series with the Tampa Bay Rays on Saturday evening. The Blue Jays entered Friday's action tied for third place in the American League East, three games behind the Boston Red Sox for first place in the division. The Rays are one rung ahead of Toronto on the AL East ladder, as they are 1.5 games out of first place. This weekend's series is the first between these two division foes this season. Game one of the series takes place on Friday evening. This preview was written before Friday's game.
Reinforcements on the way for Blue JaysThe Toronto Blue Jays have not had a stellar start to their 2021 season, as they look to repeat as a playoff team from a year ago. They lost to the Rays in the Wild Card Series in last season's playoffs. The Blue Jays have had to deal with numerous injury and illness situations this season, which have kept them from returning to last year's success. Help is on the way, however. George Springer, who was the 2017 World Series MVP for Houston, was signed by Toronto in the offseason. He has yet to make his Blue Jays' debut because of a couple of strained muscles. Springer has 174 home runs in his seven-year career. He is slated to play an intrasquad game on Friday, and he could join the team soon.
“He's (Springer) doing all baseball activity, he's extremely confident and strong," GM Ross Atkins said on espn.com. "Now it's just a matter of recovery and putting him in a position to play nine innings and feel like he can face elite major league pitching. Tomorrow (Friday) will be a very important day to determine what that next step is and what's best for him."
A couple of pitchers will be activated off the injured list this weekend (Jordan Romano and Tyler Chatwood), as well as outfielder Teoscar Hernandez. Hernandez has been out since April 8 after being infected with COVID-19. He is scheduled to take a clearance test on Friday, and if he tests negative, he could rejoin the team this weekend. Hernandez is hitting just .207 with one home run and two RBI in seven games played this season. He had his best season of his five-year career in 2020. He batted a career-high .289 with 16 home runs (which projects to 43 in a 162-game season, which would have shattered his previous high).
Toronto is batting .228, while they have ht 21 home runs in their first 18 games. Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. is leading the way in the hitting department, as he has the sixth-best batting average in baseball at .383. He also has four home runs, 12 RBI, and a 1.163 OPS, which is third in the majors. Bo Bichette has a team-leading five home runs this season, while Randal Grichuk, who has a .306 batting average, leads in RBI with 12. Overall, the Blue Jays' pitching staff has the fifth-best ERA in the Major Leagues (and the best in the American League) at 3.14, while their bullpen is the best in the Major Leagues with a 2.14 ERA.
Robbie Ray goes to the mound for Toronto on Saturday. He will be making his third start of the season. He is 0-1, but he has a 1.80 ERA in his two starts this season. The Blue Jays have not helped him out offensively this season at all. In the 10 innings that Ray has pitched this season, Toronto has scored a total of just one run while he has been in the game. Ray pitched five scoreless innings in his last start, as the Blue Jays went on to lose 2-0 to the Kansas City Royals. He has given up just seven hits, but he has walked nine batters in his 10 innings. Opposing hitters are batting just .200 against Ray this season. He has faced Tampa Bay twice in his career, going 0-1 with a 4.50 ERA in 10 innings pitched. Tampa Bay’s batters are hitting just .147 against him in their careers, with just five hits in 34 at bats.
History indicates that Rays are on the brink of getting hotDespite their average record right now, the Tampa Bay Rays have history on their side. Last season, they began the season with a 12-9 record, but finished 40-20. In 2019, they turned their 14-15 start into a 96-win season, and in 2018, the Rays began 6-13 before finishing with a 90-72 record. Tampa Bay is in the midst of a daunting schedule right now. Their off-day on Thursday is their only scheduled day off from April 9-May 9. Before Thursday, they played 13 straight days, going 8-5. Friday's series opener with Toronto begins a 17-day stretch of games, facing the Oakland A's, who have currently won 11 games in a row, seven times in that stretch.
Joey Wendle has the 10th-best batting average in baseball (through Thursday) with a .365 batting average, while he is also 10th in RBI with 15 this season.
“I think he (Wendle) and [coaches] Chad [Mottola] and Ozzie [Timmons] have worked hard, and Joey has taken some adjustments to allow him to free up a little bit when he gets his pitches, to maybe look to drive it more than he has in the past,” manager Kevin Cash said on mlb.com. “That’s the way hitting is now; there's so much information or enough information that the harder you hit it, the better chance you have of having success. And Joey's hit a lot of balls really hard this season early on.”
The Rays are hitting .237 as a team while they have hit 21 home runs this season. Austin Meadows leads the team with four long balls this season. Tampa Bay has hit the second-most doubles this season with 38. The Rays' pitching has been subpar this season, as they have a 4.60 ERA this season, which is 20th in the Major Leagues. Their bullpen has been atrocious this season, as they have a 5.40 bullpen ERA, which is 26th in the majors, while their .265 opponents' batting average ranks 27th in baseball. The Rays relievers have logged an AL-most 81.2 innings this season. They also lead the league in runs allowed from the seventh inning on (45) and blown saves (six).
Ryan Yarbrough gets the nod for Tampa Bay on Saturday. In four appearances (three starts), he is 1-2 with a 5.40 ERA this season. He also has a 1.34 WHIP. In his last outing, Yarbrough pitched five innings in relief of opener Andrew Kittredge. He gave up just one earned run on two hits in his five innings of work, as he got his first win of the season. In his previous two starts, however, Yarbrough gave up six runs in each game. Opposing hitters are hitting .281 against him this season. Yarbrough has excellent numbers against the Blue Jays in his career. He has faced them 12 times, twice as the starter, and he is 6-1 with a 2.45 ERA in 51.1 innings pitched. Toronto hitters have a .244 career batting average against him in 98 at bats, with just two home runs.
Best Bets for this Game
Full-Game Side Bet
The Toronto Blue Jays have not played well recently, but they split with the Boston Red Sox in their series before heading to Tampa Bay. The Blue Jays have one of the best pitching staffs in baseball this season, and their bullpen has been lights out. Toronto's starting pitcher, Robbie Ray, should be 2-0 this season if he would have gotten some run support. He has given up just seven hits in 10 innings this season, and Tampa Bay's batters are hitting less than .150 against him in their careers. The Blue Jays may also be getting some key members of their offense back for the weekend. If Springer and Hernandez are able to go on Saturday, Toronto's offense will be much improved. Yarbrough for the Rays has not pitched well overall this season, as he has given up six runs in each of his last two starts. Tampa Bay has one of the worst bullpens in the majors this season, so in a close game late, it is advantage Toront The Blue Jays will take the middle game of their series against the Rays on Saturday evening.
Full-Game Total Pick
The Blue Jays have struggled offensively lately, but with the possible addition of a couple big hitters on Saturday, they should start to improve in that area. Tampa Bay's starting pitcher has an ERA above 5.00 this season, and their bullpen has been terrible. Look for Toronto to get score some runs on Saturday. The Rays are averaging 6,9 runs per game in their last seven games, and they have scored 22 runs in their last two games. The total has gone over in 13 of Tampa Bay's first 19 games this season. For the season, the Rays are averaging nearly five runs per game, while the Blue Jays are averaging over four runs per game. Look for a relatively high-scoring game on Saturday.