Blue Jays vs. Rays series preview: everything on the line in race to MLB playoffs

Toronto Blue Jays v Tampa Bay Rays
Toronto Blue Jays v Tampa Bay Rays / Mike Ehrmann/GettyImages

After a long and arduous journey, it all comes down to this for the Toronto Blue Jays, the final series of the year, at home against the Tampa Bay Rays, with the season on the line.

Below, I’ll break down everything you need to know about the series, including its implications for the playoff race, the probable pitchers, and the key storylines to watch for.

Game time (ET):

  • Friday, September 29 – 7:07pm
  • Saturday, September 30 – 3:07pm
  • Sunday, September 31 – 3:07pm

Playoff implications:

You’ve probably already seen the bombardment of playoff possibilities and percentages bouncing around out there, as four teams – Toronto, Houston, Texas, and Seattle – battle for three playoff spots in a glorious game of high stakes musical chairs.

Because two of these teams, Texas and Seattle, play each other to close the season, the math has gotten extremely complex, but don’t worry, it doesn’t have to be that complicated.

Most simply, here is what you need to know:

  • If the Jays win two out of three against the Rays, they are in the playoffs – signed, sealed, delivered. They will be traveling south with the Rays to St. Pete to start the Wild Card round on Tuesday.
  • If the Jays win one out of three, they are still almost certainly assured of a playoff spot, either at Tampa Bay as the five-seed or at Minnesota as the six. They only way they could miss out is if Seattle sweeps Texas and Houston sweeps the Diamondbacks in Arizona.

On the other side, these games are effectively meaningless for the Rays. With Baltimore having clinched the AL East division title last night, the Rays can neither move up nor down in the standings.

On the surface this seems like a benefit for the Jays, since the Rays will likely be resting players before the playoffs start. However, if there is one team which seems like it could pull just about anyone out of the parking lot and turn them into a star caliber player, it’s the Rays, so the Jays would be wise not to assume that the Rays’ backups are easily dispatched.

Probable pitchers:

  • Civale (7-4, 3.43) @ Kikuchi (10-6, 3.82)
  • TBA/Littell (3-6, 3.68) @ Ryu (3-3, 3.31)
  • TBA/Bradley (5-8, 5.52) @ Gausman (12-9, 3.16)

The good news for the Jays is that they will not have to face Tyler Glasnow or Zach Eflin in this series, as the Rays will be holding their two aces back for Games 1 and 2 of the Wild Card round.

Aaron Civale is scheduled to start Friday night for the Rays, but at this moment, they have TBA and TBA announced after that. It is expected that Zack Littell and Taj Bradley will start, or perhaps that the Rays will go with a bullpen day, or even call someone up from the minors to fill the innings.

But again, if there is any team which can call someone out of their bullpen or up from the minors and have them dominate the Jays, it’s the Rays, so the Toronto bats would be well advised to be prepared to grip it and rip it.

The Jays, meanwhile, are expected to roll out Kikuchi and Ryu on Friday and Saturday. Sunday is where things get dicey. The Jays absolutely, positively do not want to have to use ace Kevin Gausman on the final day of the season, since he would ideally be the Game 1 starter in the Wild Card.

If there is anything to cheer for in this series as a Jays fan, aside from the team not absolutely collapsing and missing the playoffs, it is for them to clinch their spot before Gausman is scheduled to take to the hill.

Injury report:

Aside from catcher Danny Jansen, the Blue Jays are remarkably healthy heading into the final series of the year – Romano’s fingernail has healed, Bichette is finding his timing, and even Brandon Belt has returned swinging it.

The Rays, meanwhile, not so much. As they have been all year, they are banged up, missing important pieces like starters Shane McClanahan and Drew Rasmussen, reliever Jason Adam, and second baseman Brandon Lowe.

They did receive some good news with All Star outfielder Randy Arozarena returning from injury in the last game, and Yandy Díaz expected to do the same on Friday. However, it remains to be seen how much the two will play coming off soft tissue injuries and with a playoff spot already locked up.

So, can the Blue Jays do it? Can they win two out of three against the Rays and book their spot in the postseason dance? More importantly, can they win two out of three against the Rays next week down at the Trop in the Wild Card? Let me know on the platform formerly known as Twitter – @WriteFieldDeep.