The only series win the Jays have this season came against the Rays. But that was at home in the friendly confines of Rogers Centre. This time they’ll face Tampa in the House of Horrors, a place where the Jays have a hell of a time.
Friday at 7:10 ET
Francisco Liriano has already made two stars against the Rays this season. One of them was catastrophically bad, and the other was solid. We all remember the only-got-one-guy-out five earned run spectacle that game back in the first week of the season, of course. I haven’t bothered reading much into that. It was an abnormality, which happens with pitchers like Liriano who rely heavily on breaking pitches. His last time out, he held the Rays to one run over five innings of work, allowing five hits and five walks. His command obviously wasn’t there, but he managed to work his way out of trouble in a gritty effort that the team badly needed. Like I said, command has been a struggle for Liriano, but since he strikes so many guys out and doesn’t allow many hard hits, he can usually work out of it.
Chris Archer will also make his third start of the season against the Blue Jays. Both have gone very well for him, as they always do, because Archer is a notorious Jays killer. He’s a guy who dominates with a wicked slider, which is a pitch many in the Jays lineup struggle with. This season, Archer’s slider is being hit for a .171 average with an isolated power figure of .078. He held the Jays to two runs in seven-and-two-thirds innings and one run over seven-and-one-third last weekend. And I imagine he’ll be good again! So Liriano is going to have to be on his game to give the Jays a chance in this one.
Saturday at 4:10 ET
Marco Estrada has been excellent this season. Even better than he was in 2015 and 2016, which is incredible. His strikeout totals are up thanks to an increased changeup usage, and both his walks and hard hit balls have decreased in comparison to 2016. That could be a small sample size thing, or it could be Marco, like a fine wine, is getting even better with age. He’s made six starts, in five of them, he’s held the opponent to two or fewer runs. The only time he didn’t? His second start of the season in Tampa. Estrada got drilled for five earned runs over five innings. That game he also surrendered three home runs, his only three of the season. In 2015, Estrada was dominant against the Rays. He almost threw a perfect game that one time, remember? But in 2016, they seemed to figure him out, as he didn’t make it out of the fifth inning with fewer once in his three starts against Tampa. But all those starts came after July, which is when he was struggling with his back injury and his results all across the board got worse. I wouldn’t look too much into it.
That game that the Rays tagged Estrada, Jake Odorizzi was the starter. The Jays looked like they were going to tee off on him after a two-run first inning, but Odorizzi shut them down over the next five. In his next start, he left after just one inning and hit the 10-day disabled list with a hamstring injury. Since coming off, Odorizzi has made one start, holding the Marlins to two runs over five innings. Odorizzi can throw six pitches, but largely uses the fastball, and has been quite successful against the Jays over his career. This game is kind of a toss up. Estrada could dominate the Rays, like he’s dominated everyone other than the, well, Rays, this year, or the pattern could continue and he can get mashed. Same goes for Odorizzi, because his profile is definitely one of a pitcher the Jays can hit.
Sunday at 1:10 ET
Here’s the wild card game. It says TBD on MLB.com but I’m fairly certain Mat Latos will be starting for the Blue Jays on Sunday. He was decent against the Angels his first time out, very good against the Cardinals, and very bad against the Yankees. The positive from the Yankees start? Lots of strikeouts. His sinker and change were working, but it was his fastball that was getting pounded because it was up in the zone. Latos hasn’t faced the Rays yet this season, so maybe he can fool them with the lack of familiarity.
Welllllll scratch all of that. Mat Latos has been designated for assignment. We don’t know yet who the Jays will call up in his spot.
Going for the Rays will be Alex Cobb, the only Rays starter the Jays haven’t seen yet this season. He was once the pitcher of the future for this organization, but injuries kind of derailed his career. Cobb missed all of 2015 and most 2016 after having Tommy John, and has been very hit or miss in his return this season. He’s made six starts, three of which have resulted in the other team scoring four runs. Cobb doesn’t strike many guys out, pitches to contact, and mixes four pitches, a fastball, sinker, curve, and splitter, consistently. This game is totally up in the air. Both pitchers can be effective, or can be very bad.
That said, I would put my money on Latos imploding before I do so for Cobb.
This series doesn’t stack up well for the Jays. They always seem to hit Archer when they pay Tampa, which is frustrating. The Rays have been consistently solid this season. They get pretty good starting pitching and hit for power, which is a nice recipe for success. The ket for the Jays really is Liriano and Estrada stepping up and pitching well, as they both have this season save for their respective terrible starts… In The House of Horrors.