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Photo Credit: © Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Series Preview: A Ray Of Hope?

The Blue Jays have an excellent opportunity to gain some major ground in the wild card race this week with the Rays coming to town for four games. Tampa Bay, who seemed poised to grab that second wild card spot, has been terrible as of late, and if everything goes well, the Jays can hop them in the standings by Thursday.

Monday at 7:07 ET

Jake Odorizzi left his last start against the Red Sox with a right foot contusion, but will apparently be good to go for the series opener on Monday. Odorizzi has been pretty bad recently, only clearing five innings twice in his last five starts dating back to the beginning of July. He’s faced the Jays three times this season. Two of the starts went well, and one went poorly, which follows a similar arc to his season all together, as he started well but has tailed off with time.

Nick Tepesch will get another chance to start for the Jays in the series opener. The journeyman righty got beat up a little bit the Yankees in a Jays debut last week, getting tagged for five earned runs over four-and-a-third innings of work. If he gets drilled again, there’s a pretty decent chance we’ll see somebody else fill his back-of-the-rotation role, though options are thin for the very-injured Jays.

Tuesday at 7:07 ET

Blake Snell started the season with the Rays, but couldn’t throw a strike, so he was demoted to Triple-A in May. He’s come back up due to injury’s in Tampa Bay’s rotation and has continued to be fairly erratic. Snell, who boasts damn good stuff, has just two quality starts in seven outings since being recalled in June, and also hasn’t yet managed to pick up a win at the big league level in 2017. His 4.9 walks surrendered per nine innings bodes well for a Blue Jays team that finds success with a patient approach.

Marco Estrada has cleared seven innings in his last three starts in a row and has seemingly put an end to his surprising mid-season struggles. His last outing against the Yankees was one of his best of the season, as Estrada shut New York down for one run on five hits over seven innings while striking out six. The Rays have given Estrada hell this year, as three of his worst outings came against Tampa Bay, so this start will be a good test to see if he’s navigated through whatever issues he was having.

Wednesday at 7:07 ET

Jacob Faria, called up to the show in the wake of injury, has been a pleasant surprise for the Rays this season.His last outing against Cleveland was likely his worst of the season, but save for a couple of bad starts, Faria has consistently been very good. 10 of his 12 starts in his big league debut season have been quality starts and he owns a 3.19 ERA while striking out 9.1 batters per nine innings.

Marcus Stroman has also bene very good this season. After a dominant performance against the Pirates over the weekend, Stroman has pushed his ERA down to 3.00 on the season, which is the fourth best in the American League. If not for Chris Sale’s amazing season, Stroman would likely get some serious consideration for the Cy Young Award. Anyways, Stroman has faced the Rays twice this season, and both outings went very well, as he’s held them to three earned runs over 13 1/3 innings.

Thursday at 4:07 ET

Chris Archer, Tampa’s ace, will start in the series finale. After an up and down 2016 season, Archer has been damn good for the Rays this season. He’s made 25 starts and has cleared at least five innings in all of them, and while his 3.84 is good-not-great, Archer is striking out a career-high 11.1 batters per nine innings. An issue for him, and all of the Rays starters, really, has been mediocre defence playing behind them.

He’ll go against Chris Rowley, the undrafted free agent from the American military, who had a very good start in his MLB debut last weekend against the Pirates. Rowley tossed five-and-one-third innings, holding the Pirates to just one run on five hits while striking out three. He isn’t overpowering, but pitches like a grizzled veteran, commanding the strike zone and maintaining composure on the mound.

Thoughts…

The Rays have been terrible recently. In their last three series, they’ve played nine games and have only managed to score 11 runs. They’ve been shut out five times in that span and have scored no more than four runs. The pitching has been fine, but virtually nobody on the team is hitting, and as a result, the Rays have gone on a historically-bad dry spell that’s shoved them out of a playoff spot.

If all goes well and the Jays sweep Tampa, the Rays could find themselves in last in the AL East while the Jays, depending on what the Orioles do, could be in third. More realistically, three of four wins for the Jays and Toronto would be a game above Tampa in the standings. Damn!