The way the Blue Jays have lined up their rotation against the Rays is a curious decision, and hopefully Taijuan Walker gets a chance to make an impact on the series.
Yesterday I wrote about how I disagreed with the way the Blue Jays are lining up their starting rotation against the Rays for the three-game first round, and with a good night’s sleep I still stand by it.
I understand that Hyun Jin Ryu was reportedly “a little sore” after his last start and that he preferred an extra day off, even if I personally would still rather see him out there. However, as I pointed out yesterday the Blue Jays could have turned to Taijuan Walker for Game 1, even though he’s on short rest. That’s especially possible because he only threw three innings and 42 pitches during his last outing, and at the time I assumed it was to preserve him for the playoffs and to give the Blue Jays a few options.
Charlie Montoyo and the coaching staff ultimately settled on starting Matt Shoemaker in Game 1, and that likely means we can expect a bit of a “bullpen day” of sorts. Shoemaker has only made one start since returning from the Injured List and threw just three innings and 54 pitches, so asking for more than 4-5 innings this time is probably unrealistic. That likely means we’ll see one or more of Robbie Ray, Nate Pearson, or maybe Ross Stripling as long as his leg is feeling okay after getting hit with a come-backer the other day.
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Yesterday I outlined why I’d rather see Ryu and Walker in Game 1 and 2, but there’s one point that I didn’t give near enough emphasis to. That’s the idea that unless the Blue Jays win one of the first two games of this series, Walker may have made his last start in their uniform and that’s unacceptable.
I made a podcast appearance with “Batflips and Maple Dips” this morning, and I offered a bit of a stretch to make a comparison to what happened between the Blue Jays and Baltimore Orioles during the Wild Card game back in 2016. The decision not to use Zack Britton in that game has likely haunted Buck Showalter since, as it should. Losing a game without using your best weapon is a rough position to be in, and I’m sure you remember how it ended for the Orioles.
Is Walker the Blue Jays’ best weapon right now? I’d still argue that Ryu is their top starter, but Walker has been on a tear since he joined his new team, posting a 1.37 ERA over six starts and 26.1 innings. The playoffs aren’t always about the best team winning, but rather who can get hot at the right time. Right now the former Mariner is performing at the highest level of his MLB career, and the Blue Jays should be taking advantage.
That’s not to suggest that I don’t have any faith in the Shoemaker/Ray/etc. combo in Game 1, or that Ryu can’t steal Game 2 either. In fact, it could work out that having Walker pitching in a deciding Game 3 will prove to be very valuable, and maybe I’ll concede that I was wrong in a few days time.
That said, I really don’t like the idea of there being a possibility that Walker won’t pitch at all, especially when he should be rested enough to start whenever he’s asked, and he could be a serious difference maker right now. In a short three-game series, I’d rather see all hands on deck right out of the gates, and hopefully this doesn’t turn into a variation of what happened with the Orioles back in 2016.