Tao of Stieb: Orioles belong atop Blue Jays rivalry power rankings

Russell Martin homered to put the Blue Jays ahead as they split a two-game series with the Tampa Bay Rays.

This weekend’s series against the Chicago White Sox notwithstanding, the Toronto Blue Jays are in a stretch of their schedule where they’ll face down some of their most heated rivals.

Whether these grudges are carried over from past playoff series, slights (real or imagined), or merely the contempt bred out of familiarity, Blue Jays fans have spread their antipathy across several rivalries.

With that in mind, it’s a good opportunity to consider the Blue Jays rivalry power rankings before tensions are renewed or reinvigorated…

1. Baltimore Orioles

There’s no shortage of reasons to dislike the other birds of the AL East. Start with the detestably smug manager Buck Showalter, who has a knack for making his presence known in games. The skipper’s sour-faced scolding of umpires over trivial matters, indignant enforcement of unwritten rules and fastidious settling of scores makes him one of the most loathsome characters in the game. Add to that the gleefully haughty general manager Dan Duquette, and hot-headed reliever Darren O’Day, and you have more than enough reasons to get your back up whenever the two teams face off.

The Jays have spent much of the past decade bumping up against the O’s in the standings, meaning even in down years, any series between the two teams is a matter of pride, and Baltimore has had an annoying habit of beating the Jays at inconvenient times. It made clinching the 2015 AL East title in Baltimore and beating them in the Wild Card game last year immensely satisfying.

This rivalry is intense enough that even minor details can be aggravating, like J.J. Hardy’s maddeningly irritating overhand throws from short. Up his nose with a rubber hose.

Next Series: June 27-29 in Toronto.

2. Texas Rangers

Two consecutive ALDS matchups with the team from Arlington have created one of the more heated rivalries in the game. Moreover, the doggedness of the Rangers faithful in glorifying an essentially meaningless bit of thuggery into a franchise-defining moment would be frustrating if it weren’t so desperate. So much joy in throwing a punch that barely fazed José Bautista, and would have been unremarkable had he not been wearing sunglasses.

The guess here is that when the two teams square off next week, repugnant manager Jeff Banister will attempt some bush-league frontier justice in the final innings of the final game, like the mangy scoundrel he is.

Next Series: June 19-22 in Arlington.

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3. Tampa Bay Rays

Even if tensions hadn’t escalated between the teams over misunderstandings that always seem to include Steven Souza Jr., the Rays are a maddening, contemptible team for Jays fans. It always feels as though the Jays should beat the Rays, but whatever band of shoestring ne’er-do-wells (plus Evan Longoria) Tampa has jerry-rigged together puts the Jays in their place.

It seems not to matter if the Rays are good, they always play the Blue Jays like the 1927 Yankees incarnate. Series at Tropicana Field always come with an added degree of anxiety, with the Jays posting an all-time record of 71-102 there since the Rays’ inception.

Next Series: August 14-16 in Toronto.

4. Boston Red Sox

Jays fans dislike the Red Sox as much for the obnoxious self-assurance of the team’s fanbase as for the team on the field. This is a rivalry one could imagine reigniting easily. Although not populated with as many easily abominable players as in the past, seeing John “Dream Job” Farrell’s face reminds you of how odious they can be.

Next Series: June 30-July 2 in Toronto.

5. New York Yankees

A year ago, you might have shrugged off the Yankees as a team that was mostly benign and retooling in an admirable fashion. But after several on-field dust ups and the tiresome overhyping of Aaron Judge, it’s getting easier to dislike the Evil Empire again. The Jays will be chasing them down for much of the rest of the season, with four more series remaining.

Next Series: July 3-5 in New York.

6. Cleveland Baseball Club

Last year’s loss in the ALCS stings, though Cleveland handed out several devastating losses through two hard-fought regular season series as well. It’s hard to be angry with how they won, though it would be satisfying to beat them next time. Swooping in to grab Edwin Encarnacion stinks, as does their insistence on using their offensive logo and moniker.

Next Series: July 21-23 in Cleveland.

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7. Kansas City Royals

In August 2015, these two teams played a heated series that served as a turning point in the Blue Jays’ season, before meeting in the ALCS. Just two years later, the team seems far less fearsome. Their rotation has turned over, while key players such as Lorenzo Cain and Eric Hosmer play out what could be their final days with the club. Still, the Royals sit just a game and a half back of the Jays, so it won’t take much to reawaken hostilities.

Next Series: June 23-25 in KC.

8. Atlanta Braves

Some ridiculous tomfoolery unfolded in their last series in Atlanta, with offence taken to an obviously honest hit by pitch and a harmless bat flip turning into a series of repercussions and cleared benches. They won’t play again this season, but could the last series carry over to next year? It’s also not hard to get your back up when the team pipes in music to encourage their fans with culturally inappropriate chants.

9. Detroit Tigers

This is mostly for old timers with a long memory who will never forgive Bill Madlock for taking out Tony Fernandez in 1987. Maybe it doesn’t feel like a rivalry to most, but some grudges die hard.

Next Series: July 14-16 in Detroit.

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