If the Blue Jays are going to climb out of last place, they need to beat the Tampa Bay Rays

Photo credit:Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports
Veronica Chung
2 months ago
Another bitter loss. Another missed free A&W. The Toronto Blue Jays’ road trip to Maryland was a rather frustrating one that was filled with missed opportunities they could have capitalized on to take the series against the dreaded Baltimore Orioles. If there was a bright side as the Blue Jays return home, Toronto’s pitching held up while Baltimore’s runners in scoring position luck regressed from last season. 
The Blue Jays now host the Tampa Bay Rays for a three-game series at home and get a shot at making up the grounds in the division and Wild Card standings. Heading into this weekend, both the Rays and Jays haven’t had a great start to their seasons thus far. Tampa Bay occupies fourth place in the American League (AL) East division with 22 wins and 22 losses, and Toronto is at the bottom of the division with 19 wins and 23 losses. 
Toronto hasn’t had its finest hours, but the strength of schedule hasn’t been in their favour. According to ESPN’s Relative Power Index (RPI), the Blue Jays’ strength of schedule (SoS) is at 0.529 and has ranked first in having the hardest schedule. In contrast, the Rays SoS ranks 29th, indicating that the team has had one of the relatively easier schedules in the league. With this context, it’s foreseeable that Tampa Bay could face more trouble against stronger opponents down the stretch while the Blue Jays could benefit from facing somewhat easier adversaries.

Digging deeper into both teams’ performances, the Blue Jays and Rays have both underwhelmed in their pitching. Toronto ranks 24th and has a 4.51 earned run average (ERA) and 1.34 walks plus hits per inning pitched (WHIP), and the Rays rank 23rd with 4.34 ERA and 1.28 WHIP. This means that both teams can take advantage of underperforming pitching and pressure their rivals to score runs.
Yet, these two teams head in different directions in other parts of the statistics. In terms of fielding, Tampa has more of an advantage as they rank 13th with a 0.984 fielding percentage and 1,514 total chances while Toronto only ranks 20th with a 0.983 fielding percentage and 1,437 total chances. Even if the Rays are seven places ahead of the Jays, none of the teams has displayed elite defence. Some defensive miscues could provide more opportunities for both teams to score against one another throughout this weekend’s series. 
Unfortunately for Toronto, their gap with the Rays widens even more whent it comes to team batting statistics. So far, the Rays rank 10th in team batting with a 0.243 batting average (BA), 0.313 on-base percentage (OBP), 0.370 slugging (SLG) and 0.648 on-base plus slugging (OPS). The Blue Jays, on the other hand, rank only 21st with a 0.231 BA, 0.309 OBP, 0.361 SLG and 0.671 OPS. Neither team possesses impressive offensive outputs, but it’s evident that Tampa Bay has more advantage than the Blue Jays at least on paper. 
While the gap between Tampa and Toronto exists in every aspect, these odds are something the Blue Jays can easily overcome with consistent offensive and defensive performances. If Toronto wants to gain more momentum in their season, it must win at least two out of three games against Tampa Bay this weekend. Although winning two or three games won’t help the Blue Jays overtake the Rays in the standings, it will certainly help close the gap between them. 
As much as the Rays avoid subpar records at all costs for several years, the 2024 season is shaping up to be one of the odd-down years for the team. In other words, this is the golden opportunity for the Blue Jays to regain their momentum and prove that they are capable of winning more games against their AL East rivals. Last year, the Blue Jays only won 21 games and lost 31 against AL East opponents. This season isn’t off to a great start either since the Blue Jays have only won six out of 16 games against their division rivals. Nevertheless, Toronto has yet to face off against Boston, and there are still more games left against the division to redeem their record. 
Thirty-some years ago, renowned Brazilian motorsports racing driver Ayrton Senna said, “If you no longer go for a gap that exists, you’re no longer a racing driver.” Senna’s quote clearly has no direct relation to baseball or the Blue Jays, but the idea remains relevant. However, Toronto has an existing gap that they need to go for to earn a shot at redemption. 
The Blue Jays have no choice but to go for a gap that exists because they are competing. It’s time to go big or go home – mediocrity won’t cut it any longer.

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