After a disappointing series against Detroit that saw the Rays drop three of four to the Tigers, Tampa Bay heads north of the border for a four game set with the Toronto Blue Jays. With the loss on Thursday, the Rays fall to nine and a half games back in the AL East and eight and a half games back in the Wildcard.
They look to get their momentum back against a Toronto team that has lost four of their last six. Tampa had won five in a row before the tightly contested series with Detroit. On the season the Rays are 7-4 against Toronto, but of the eleven games, ten have been decided by two runs or fewer.
The last time these two teams faced each other was at the beginning of August at the Trop. The Rays took two of three, with the final game going 12 innings before the Rays scratched out a 7-6 win. In that series James Shields picked up his tenth win of the season. He has made two starts against the Jays, allowing just one run in 16 1/3 innings. He will get the start in game one of this series, facing Henderson Alvarez. Alvarez will be making just his fourth start of the season.
After Shields, the Rays send Jeff Niemann, David Price and Wade Davis to the mound. Those three are a combined 2-3 against Toronto this season, with Price responsible for the two wins. None of the three has terrible numbers against the Jays. But the two teams are so closely matched; any slip can be the difference in a win and a loss.
Toronto outfielder Jose Bautista will certainly be happy to see the Rays coming to town. He has batted .391 this season against them and has five of his 37 homers against Tampa. One player who may not be looking forward to the trip to Canada is Evan Longoria. He is batting just .133 against the Jays and has 10 strikeouts in 30 at bats. Casey Kotchman leads the Rays with a .320 average against Toronto, but has just one RBI, which came on a solo home run.
Prediction: The Rays earn a split in Canada. As much as I would love to see a sweep, the Rays just didn’t look as sharp as I thought they would against Detroit. The losses they had were tough losses and I just think it is too much to expect anything more than two wins. By the time this series is over, they will have played 11 straight days after having played five games against the Red Sox and Yankees before this stretch. They have got to get something going on offense and hopefully the Jays pitching will help them find some. The Rays need to string together some wins and maybe this is the weekend they make it happen.