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Photo Credit: © Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Series Preview: Climbing The AL East Ladder

The Blue Jays will welcome the Rays to Toronto for a quick two-game series this week. It may not seem all that important, but based on the way things seem to be shaping up, the Jays are going to need to have success against the Rays in order to work their way into third in the AL East and, ultimately, the second wild card spot.

Tuesday at 7:07 ET

Jacob Faria made his Major League debut last week, holding the Chicago White Sox to one run on just three hits and two walks over six-and-one-third. It was supposed to just be a one-day stint, but yesterday, the Rays placed Matt Andriese on the 10-day disabled list, so Faria will be back up from Triple-A to fill his spot on the rotation. Faria has also been excellent in the minors this season, which likely played a role in him being the one called up over, say, Blake Snell. Through 11 stars, the righty has a 3.07 ERA and is striking out a whopping 12.9 batters per nine innings. He features the standard four-pitch arsenal, with a 92-94 mph fastball and changeup combination with good command and an easy delivery being his strength.

Going for the Jays will be Marco Estrada, who’s had a hell of a time with the Rays this season. Estrada has lineup against the Rays twice this season, allowing 10 earned runs over 11 innings of work. That said, Estrada’s struggles came at the House of Horrors in Tampa Bay. In the past, Estrada hasn’t had a bad time with the Rays, owning a career 3.75 ERA in eight starts against Tampa Bay.

Wednesday at 7:07 ET

Which Alex Cobb are we going to see on Wednesday? The one who completely shut the Oakland A’s down, allowing one run on four hits? Or will it be the one who got drilled by the Seattle Mariners, getting tagged for nine runs on 14 hits over five innings of work? Before his last two starts, Cobb had been pretty consistent all season. The Rays could generally expect him to go six or seven innings while holding the other team to three or four runs. He dominated the Jays back in early May, though that came when the team was trotting out the Buffalo Bisons. Cobb shut the Jays down for perhaps his best start of the season, allowing just two runs over eight innings, though he only recorded three strikeouts, which is well below his season average of 6.4 per nine.

Francisco Liriano will make his third start since coming off the disabled list. Liriano has already faced Tampa Bay three times this season. One of them was that only-one-out five earned run disaster in April, the next was a solid five inning outing in which Liriano battled command, and the third came in his second last start before hitting the DL. Liriano has been good since returning to action. He allowed three runs over five innings in Oakland last week, though the defence really let him down. The most important positive has been command, as Liriano has only walked three batters in 10 innings since coming off the DL.

Thoughts…

The Jays badly need to beat Tampa Bay the rest of the way this season. The Yankees don’t appear to be going anywhere and the Red Sox are putting together a strong season in the standings despite underachieving. If the Jays are going to have a shot at making the second wild card, they’re going to have to top Tampa Bay because, well, obviously, you can’t finish fourth in the AL BEAST and make the playoffs. The Jays are 5-5 against Tampa Bay so far, and the two teams will play each other nine more times this season.

Also, Toronto has a pretty light schedule right now. After this Tampa series, they’ll play the White Sox at home before hitting the road to play Texas, Kansas City, and Baltimore, all flawed teams who they need to capitalize on. After that? They play Boston, New York, Houston, Detroit, Boston, and Cleveland. That’s a rough ride.