May 12, 2013; Boston, MA USA; Toronto Blue Jays batting gloves are piled up in the dugout prior to a game against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Series Preview: Tampa Bay Rays (23-20) @ Toronto Blue Jays (17-26)



Confounding Yankees. With our winning streak a thing of the past it’s time to look forward…though losing to David Phelps kind of hurt…but I digress. Because we split the series in Tampa I have renewed optimism for our chances against them. Their pitching has been given a blow with David Price landing on the DL but it allows the good fans of Toronto to see another pitching prodigy in the guise of Jake Odorizzi. He was part of the James Shields trade with Kansas City and has scouts drooling with the potential he has. Somewhere along the way the Rays are going to flub on a first rounder but so far they seem to be coming up roses again.

Hopefully the rain out and the sun covered turf will snap the Blue Jays back into the hitting force that they were during their modest streak. Yankee Stadium is always tough to play in but to lose to a team that has Jayson Nix starting is downright offensive. Holding things down while Jose Reyes still recovers has led to some strange batting orders. Going with the hot hand up front is great but I still believe in spreading the wealth from 1 through 9.

Our hitting has been inconsistent all season in general and with one of the driving forces of our offence lately struggling to run, (see Cabrera, Melky) we sent down the horrendous Mickey Storey and boosted the bench with the speed of Anthony Gose. It is a wee bit surprising considering Gose has had a bit of a down year offensively. He has hit .227 with two home runs, 12 RBIs, and five steals in 40 games in AAA so far. This is obviously strictly a move for defensive purposes and for pinch running to give Melky some time off late in games. With Rajai still down this is something we have lacked for a week or so.

Probable Pitchers:

Game 1: Jake Odorizzi (0-0, 9.00 ERA) vs R.A. Dickey (3-5, 4.83 ERA)
Game 2: Alex Cobb (4-2, 2.89 ERA) vs Ramon Ortiz (1-1, 2.35 ERA)
Game 3: Jeremy Hellickson (2-2, 5.82 ERA) vs Mark Buehrle (1-3, 6.33 ERA)

I worry about this game 1 for one simple reason. The Blue Jays have a perception that they do not do so well against young pitchers they haven’t seen much of (hellllllo again David Phelps). If Dickey can improve on his last outing against the Rays (6 IP, 2 ER, 5 BB, 5 K) then we should have no problem with this start. Walks still seem to be a bit of an issue but he seems to slowly be finding his groove. Hopefully his neck and back keep getting better.

While with Triple-A Durham, Odorizzi was 4-0 with a 3.83 ERA, 1.10 WHIP and 47 strikeouts. He has a killer fastball that repeats around 93 MPH and has always been a bit of a bulldog on the mound. He shows no fear and will bring the same killer instinct as the man he is replacing in the rotation. With Joe Maddon pulling the strings he should feel comfortable with a manager who has his back.

Game 2 gives us the bulldog versus the veteran. Cobb has averaged a team best 6 2/3 IP and has not allowed more than 4 ER in any of his starts this season. Cobb is already cog in the machine for the Rays and has helpd to offset the trading of the aforementioned Shields and Wade Davis. Hopefully our saving grace will be two-fold. One, Cobb’s ERA nearly doubles during day games (4.50 ERA). Two, Ramon Ortiz continues to defy the odds and pitches like the crafty veteran he has become. If he can keep his walks in check and takes advantage of the not-so-hot Rays line-up then we may have a chance in this game. The biggest question now is now long can he maintain this pace considering he hadn’t pitched in an MLB game since 2011.

If any of these games are going to have a offensive explosion it would be game 3. Hellickson has seen his ERA go up and up in his last six starts (from 3.55 to 5.82) He is 2-1 with a 3.70 ERA in four career starts at Rogers Centre so there is a chance he turns it around here. Buehrle pitched well in his last start until the seventh where the bullpen allowed his inherited runners to score. Buehrle seems to have become a 6 inning pitcher these days and aside from the 1 earned he threw during his great game in Boston, we have come to expect 5 earned in any game he starts. A 1.48 WHIP is .2 higher than his careers norm. Is he slowly turning the corner or have we inherited a game pitcher on a precipitous decline.

Line-Ups:

The following are the probable line-ups for both squads:

Tampa Bay Rays:

1. CF: Desmond Jennings
2. RF: Matt Joyce
3. 2B: Ben Zobrist
4. 3B: Evan Longoria
5. 1B: James Loney
6. DH: Luke Scott
7. LF: Sam Fuld
8. C: Jose Lobaton
9. SS: Yunel Escobar

Toronto Blue Jays:

1. LF: Melky Cabrera
2. RF: Jose Bautista
3. 1B: Edwin Encarnacion
4. DH: Adam Lind
5. 3B: Brett Lawrie
6. CF: Colby Rasmus
7. 2B: Emilio Bonifacio
8. C: Henry Blanco
9. SS: Munenori Kawasaki

Looking at these two line-ups it would seem the Jays should give the Rays fits. However, the Rays have the best record in baseball against the Blue Jays at 63-31 (.670) since 2008, and an all-time record of 138-123 (.529). They seem to be the re-incarnation of the Milwaukee Brewers of the late ’80′s. A team that is middling in general but has our number overall. And in May, the Rays have the best team BAA of .292. Couple that with our second worst pitching in May (5.31 ERA) and you have to wonder if the Jays have what it takes to derail the Rays at the plate.

Final Word

I keep hoping the Jays pitchers will turn it around but as the season keeps going I am starting to wonder if we are what we are. A decent hitting team that is brought down by it’s starters. Funnily enough, it is the replacements that have done a decent job in keeping us in the game. We need Dickey to keep getting better and we need the rest of the veteran staff to become the pitchers they have always been (Josh Johnson) rather than what they have become (Mark Buehrle). Until that happens we have to pound other teams into submission with the bats. Against the Rays, however, it seems that we may have to wait until the next series.

Tags: Toronto Blue Jays