Rays’ Sights Turn to Toronto in Pivotal Weekend Series

Toronto Blue Jays v Tampa Bay Rays
Toronto Blue Jays v Tampa Bay Rays / Julio Aguilar/GettyImages

After a sweep of the Pirates, the Tampa Bay Rays have squandered any momentum gained in the process following two losses to the Brewers. Will they be able to turn things around this weekend as they head north of the border?

It’s no secret: Things have been rough in the Bay the past few weeks. Working with a hospital of a roster, the Rays have been fighting to keep their heads above water in the most competitive division in baseball. After a pair of interleague affairs with NL Central opponents, Tampa Bay will be back at war in the AL East on Thursday against the Toronto Blue Jays.

The Blue Jays have had an interesting season, currently sitting third in the division standings. As things tend to go in the East, though, an extremely narrow margin is all that separates them from second-place Boston, who they lost to on Wednesday to shake up the order. The Yankees sit comfortably in first with a lead upwards of a dozen games, but places two through four are very much up for grabs.

As if the roster wasn’t thin enough as is for Tampa Bay, they will be without a pair of relievers as Ryan Thompson and Brooks Raley will be unavailable due to Canada’s vaccine requirements. The Rays will be allowed to temporarily replace them on the active roster, but it’s something to keep an eye on in the bullpen.

One break that the Rays have received is that they will avoid facing Alek Manoah, who has carved his way through lineups this year with an ERA of just 2.05. Manoah faced Boston on Wednesday, allowing two earned runs over seven innings pitched. 

Things get even better for the Rays when looking at pitching matchups. Toronto is slated to start Yusei Kikuchi and Jose Berrios in Thursday and Friday’s contests. The two have both posted ERAs north of 5.00 during the 2022 season. The latter has been the recipient of widespread criticism following the signing of a 7-year/$131 million deal this past offseason.

As Rays fans are well accustomed to at this point, though, the offense hasn’t exactly come easily this year for the club. The return of Wander Franco and the emergence of Isaac Paredes should continue to help fuel the bats as the season progresses. 

For the Rays, the pitching situation looks to be a positive note going into the series. Veteran Corey Kluber is scheduled to start on Friday, with AL Cy Young contender Shane McClanahan returning to the mound on Saturday. Following this, though, the bullpen could find itself responsible yet again to take care of the remaining two games.

Fans would have to take a trip back to May 29th to find the last series win that the Rays picked up against a divisional opponent. This weekend’s go at it won’t be an easy one, but a pair — or perhaps trio or a sweep — of wins could be just what it takes to get things turned back in the right direction.