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Up Next: Blue Jays continue AL East stretch with series against Rays

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Photo credit:Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
Chris Georges
2 months ago
THIS ARTICLE IS PRESENTED BY bet365
The Tampa Bay Rays come to town for a weekend series, the fourth straight opponent with a winning record that the Blue Jays will face.
The Rays are coming off taking three of four against the Red Sox in Boston and are 23-22 on the year (9-10 on the road). The Blue Jays combined to go 3-4 against the likes of the Phillies, Twins, and Orioles last week, with their schedule softening as the month continues. Let’s take a look at what the Rays have been bringing to the table so far this season.

Nuts and Bolts

Friday, May 17th, 7:07 EST – Tyler Alexander (1-2, 5.45) vs Chris Bassitt (3-5, 5.06)
Saturday, May 18th, 3:07 EST – Zach Eflin (3-4, 3.91) vs Kevin Gausman (2-3, 4.95)
Sunday, May 19th, 1:37 EST – Aaron Civale (2-3, 5.83) vs Alek Manoah (0-1, 4.91)

Starting Pitching

The Rays’ characteristically strong pitching has struggled a bit this season, with their 4.24 starters’ ERA ranking 20th in the Major Leagues. Saturday starter Zach Eflin has continued to pitch well in his second year with the team, orchestrating a 3.91 ERA and 1.13 WHIP with only four walks on the season. Ryan Pepiot, the biggest piece the Rays received in the offseason trade of Tyler Glasnow, has pitched very well before landing on the injured list last week. The pride of Indianapolis, Indiana leads all Rays starters with a 0.93 WHIP. The Rays may have found something in Zack Littell, a pitcher who is on his fourth team in the last four years. Littell’s 3.44 ERA slots in nicely behind Eflin and Pepiot as a middle of the rotation arm for this team.
Sunday’s starter, Aaron Civale, has been a bit of a disappointment for Tampa Bay this season, working a 5.83 ERA and 1.32 WHIP in his first full season with the team. The Rays parted with top prospect Kyle Manzardo in a trade deadline move last year and will hope for better production from the former Cleveland Guardian as the season progresses. Former Detroit Tiger Tyler Alexander gets the ball tonight, looking to improve on his mediocre start to the season. He’ll be making his sixth start and tenth overall appearance, coming into the game with a 5.45 ERA and 1.36 WHIP.

Bullpen

The Rays bullpen has struggled to the tune of a 4.44 ERA in 2024, ranking 25th in the Majors. Pete Fairbanks was used as the team’s traditional closer earlier in the year, but command trouble and a 6.30 ERA have opened the door for righthander Jason Adam. After bouncing around the Jays, Royals, and Cubs organizations from 2018-2021, Adam has found a home in Tampa, amassing a 2.09 ERA in three seasons with the team. His season WHIP of 0.85 leads the bullpen, and he’s now tied with Fairbanks for the team lead in saves with three. Another impressive reliever has been sidearm righthander Kevin Kelly, who has a 3.38 ERA and 0.86 WHIP in 15 appearances.
A handful of relievers have struggled for this bullpen this year, leading to the team ERA being so high. To go along with Fairbanks, right-handers Phil Maton, Chris Devenski, and lefty Colin Poche have fallen victim to the long ball in the first quarter of the season. Look for the Blue Jays to take advantage when these relievers enter the game this weekend.

Hitting

The Rays team hitting ranks 18th in the Major Leagues in OPS, as a lack of power has hurt them so far this year. They do rank 5th in the league with 50 stolen bases, although they have been caught a league-high 21 times.
Tampa Bay’s offense has surprisingly been led by third basemen Isaac Paredes, who leads the team in hits, home runs, RBI, and OPS. The Hermosillo, Mexico native somewhat quietly hit 31 home runs last season, building on his success in his third full season as a Ray. Josh Lowe’s return from the injury list has been a welcome sight for Rays fans, as he’s amassed a .956 OPS with two home runs in his first nine games of the season. The early returns on the Glasnow trade have been promising, with not only Pepiot pitching well but also some strong production from outfielder Johnny DeLuca. Across 13 games, the former Oregon Duck has managed an .895 OPS, with more walks than strikeouts (six to four).
The biggest disappointment from this year’s Rays lineup so far has to be the poor production from 2023 All-Stars Randy Arozarena and Yandy Diaz. Despite being in a tie for the team lead in home runs with Paredes with eight, Arozorena has hit just .159, amassing a .587 OPS on the season. Diaz hasn’t been much better, getting on base at a better clip but not providing a whole lot of thump, culminating in a .659 OPS. As the Blue Jays know first-hand, it can be tough when the players who lead the team in games played and at-bats are also struggling. There’s a good chance that both players will improve back to their usual standards as the season progresses.

Final Word

The Rays have struggled more than they have in recent years, with their -28 run differential suggesting that they may be lucky to be sitting one game above .500 so far. After the Jays held their own against three of the best and hottest teams in the Majors, it would be a great sign if they could win this series and create some forward momentum.

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