We’ve seen this EXACT series before. Marcus Stroman takes on Blake Snell, Francisco Liriano goes up against Matt Andriese, and Aaron Sanchez faces Chris Archer in a battle of aces. The only thing missing is Jake Odorizzi and Marco Estrada, otherwise it’s Opening Weekend all over again. Hopefully for the Jays, it goes better this time.
Friday at 7:07 ET
Marcus Stroman has been a major bright spot for the Blue Jays so far this season. Aside from a rough start against Boston last week, Stroman has had that breakout campaign we all knew was on the horizon after his World Baseball Classic MVP performance. The Stro Show was on full display on Sunday in Anaheim, as Stroman carved up the Angels lineup, allowing just two runs (one earned) on seven hits over a complete game. That’s not an easy lineup to carve up, either. Add to that the fact he had to deal with a frustrating home plate umpire, and the win becomes even more impressive. It was his second complete game of the season, and first win since he beat the Rays back on April 6 with a one-run-over-six-and-one-third gem in Tampa Bay. I always like when Stroman takes the mound when the team is in a slump. He really is the team’s big game pitcher, I find, and it seems he gets an added boost when there’s an opportunity to singlehandedly help turn the team’s fortunes around.
Snell was the losing pitcher that game, as the Jays tagged him for five runs (four earned) over six-and-two-thirds innings of work, most of it coming on a Kendrys Morales grand slam. On the surface, Snell seems to be having a solid season. 3.38 ERA? Good stuff! But his underlying numbers suggest otherwise. Snell has walked a league-high 15 (!!!) batters through 21 1/3 innings of work. I mean, hell, he’s walking as many guys per nine, 6.3, as he is striking out, which isn’t ever a good recipe for success. As we saw last time, Snell has nasty stuff, and when he’s on and hitting the zone, he’s very good. But if you’re walking the world, you’re going to have a bad time. And the Jays, while they aren’t hitting anything right now, are a team that knows how to take a walk. This game favours Toronto.
Saturday at 1:07 ET
Matt Andriese, the Rays’ fifth starter, has had a pretty nice start to the season. He owns a 3.86 ERA, which is quite a bit better than the results he had been putting up over his first two seasons in the league. The Jays have seen him already this season, as you’ll probably remember. It came back on April 7 when Francisco Liriano, who he’ll be going up against, completely imploded and couldn’t get out of the first inning. Andriese wasn’t particularly good himself, lasting just four innings and allowing four runs on seven hits and a walk. Since then, though, he’s been quite good, holding the Yankees, Tigers, and Astros to just five runs combined over 17 innings of work.
Liriano, though, has really settled in since that catastrophic first start. The Rays tagged him for five runs on three hits and four walks in just one-third of an inning of work, which was weird and awful. Since then, he’s shut down the Orioles, Red Sox, and Angels, allowing just four runs in 17 1/3 innings of work, also racking up an impressive 18 strikeouts. Andriese’s stuff isn’t spectacular, he allows contact, doesn’t strike many guys out, and is pretty much your typical back-of-the-rotation guy, so as long as Liriano doesn’t do what he did last time, this is a very winnable one for the Blue Jays.
Sunday at 1:07 ET
This is huge for the Blue Jays. Aaron Sanchez will return on Sunday after missing a couple starts due to a blister that had been bugging him for quite some time, instantly making the Jays’ rotation much, much better.
In Sanchez’s last start before going to the 10-day DL, he tossed five-and-one-third innings against the Baltimore Orioles, getting tagged for five runs on seven hits and three home runs. Obviously the struggle there had to do with the blister, but in Sanchez’s other start, the one that came back on April 8 in Tampa, he dominated the Rays, holding them to one run on four hits and three walks in seven innings. So let’s hope that this goddamn blister is figured out once and for all! Because the Jays badly need non-messed up finger Sanchez, the dude who rolled Tampa Bay a few weeks ago, in order to turn this ship around.
We’ve seen Chris Archer once this season already. He was great. Archer held the Jays to two runs on seven-and-two-thirds innings in a dominant start. Things were going really, really well for him in his first few starts, but in his last two, he’s struggled. Against the Tigers and Orioles, Archer was tagged for four and five runs, seeing both his hit and walk numbers take a spike. He’s still striking guys out at a high clip, so a lot of his issues can likely be blamed on batted ball luck. Hell, what am I even saying here? We all know Archer is going to carve up the Jays lineup, because he always does, so Sanchez will need to have himself a strong start to help the Jays and their struggling lineup gut one out here. Last time out, he did just that, pitching Archer to a standstill, but the Jays bullpen pissed it away.
When the Jays have all of their pitchers going, it’s pretty uncommon that the other team has the advantage in the series. But with the way they’ve been hitting, and the way their bullpen has performed so far, that might actually not be the case. Still, though, the Jays have a clear advantage in the first two games, and stack up fine against Tampa’s ace in the final game. Hit the damn ball so that the relievers don’t have a chance to fuck it up, and let your starters do their thing.
Tampa is a decent team. Good, but not great. They’re a team you’re going to have to beat in order to climb up the standings and start piecing this season back together. Their lineup has been running off of Corey Dickerson, Tim Beckham, Steven Souza, all of whom are mashing the ball with authority. The Rays will hit their dingers, the key is to keep them off the bases so that when one of those sluggers does come up and hit one out of the park, they only score one run and not three or four.
The Jays haven’t won a series yet this season. Win this one, and go from there. Then, maybe by July, we can look at the standings without needing to cover our eyes in shock.