Ray will make his final start of what has been a career year for the 29 year old, and one worthy of winning the American League’s top honour for pitching performance. He’s made 31 starts and posted a 2.68 ERA and a 1.04 WHIP across 188.0 innings, striking out 244 in the process. As of this writing on Wednesday evening (after Cole’s start), Ray is still leading the AL in ERA, WHIP, strikeouts, and opponent’s batting average, and if he throws more than 4.0 innings on Thursday then he’ll take the lead back from his teammate Jose Berrios for innings pitched.
I would argue that Ray was the favourite for the award heading into this series, but a better start from Cole could have furthered the Yankee hurler’s case and strengthened the debate a lot more. Instead the Blue Jays took advantage of an off night from New York’s ace, touching him up for five earned runs and nine hits over 6.0 innings. It was a game that the Jays absolutely had to win, and thankfully it didn’t matter that they came up against one of baseball’s best.
In a season full of them for the hard-throwing southpaw, Thursday might be the biggest start of Ray’s career so far, both on a personal level and in pursuit of team success. Once again the Blue Jays have to win on Thursday, which would bring them 1.0 game back of the Yankees heading into the final series of the season. A loss would mean that they’re 3.0 games behind, and could only catch the Yankees if they lost their last three while the Blue Jays swept the Orioles. It’s not just the Yankees that the Jays are chasing right now, but dropping Thursday’s game would also drastically hurt their chances at the second Wild Card spot as well.
On a personal level, adding a Cy Young to his trophy case likely wasn’t something that even Robbie Ray would have expected in 2021. I’m not suggesting that he didn’t have any faith in himself, but after an up and down 2020 campaign that saw him finish with a 6.62 ERA over 12 appearances (11 starts), it was an unexpected leap to be where he is now, even for the biggest believers in his talent.
Last winter the Tennessee native quickly re-signed with the Blue Jays on a one-year, eight million dollar deal and it has turned out to be arguably the best bargain in baseball this year. No matter what happens on Thursday, Ray is going to be an incredibly rich man when he signs his next contract, but a Cy Young award would give his agent all the firepower he needs to pursue that nine-figure deal they’ll likely be after.
Most baseball writers believe that the race is likely down to just Ray and Cole for the Cy Young, with others like Lance Lynn and Chris Bassitt just on the periphery, and Cole’s tough outing on Wednesday may have all but decided things. That said, if Ray wants to seal the deal and boost the Blue Jays’ playoff chances all in one day, hopefully he can shut down the Yankees and finish off an incredible season. Whether he wins the award or not, Ray’s performance won’t soon be forgotten.