Blue Jays vs. Rays preview: Can Toronto leapfrog Tampa in wild card race?

Toronto Blue Jays pitcher David Phelps believes that winning the division title isn't out of the reach after having a successful road trip.

The Toronto Blue Jays open a big eight-game homestand with a five-game series against the Tampa Bay Rays at Rogers Centre. 

Weirdly, it’s the second five-game series in Toronto against the Rays this season – thanks to the delayed start to the season while the players and owners were negotiating a new CBA. 

The Rays are tied with the Seattle Mariners for the top spot in the American League wild-card race, just a half game up on the Blue Jays. 

Toronto now has a 5.5-game edge on the Baltimore Orioles in the race for the third and final spot. 

Here’s a look at the Blue Jays-Rays series. 

Probable pitchers 

Monday, 7:07 p.m. ET / 4:07 p.m. PT: Toronto RHP Jose Berrios (10-5, 5.23 ERA) vs. Tampa Bay RHP Cooper Criswell (2022 MLB debut)

Tuesday, 1:07 p.m. ET / 10:07 a.m. PT: Toronto TBA vs. Tampa Bay LHP Jeffrey Springs (7-4, 2.54 ERA) 

Tuesday, 7:07 p.m. ET / 4:07 p.m. PT: Pitchers TBA 

Wednesday, 7:07 p.m. ET / 4:07 p.m. PT: Toronto RHP Ross Stripling (7-4, 3.03 ERA) vs. Tampa Bay RHP Drew Rasmussen (10-4, 2.57 ERA) 

Thursday, 3:07 p.m. ET / 12:07 p.m. PT: Toronto RHP Kevin Gausman (12-9, 3.31 ERA) 

(All games on Sportsnet) 

Latest on the Blue Jays 

The Blue Jays (78-61) are coming off an impressive 8-2 road trip, putting them in a much more comfortable position. 

Before the trip, they were only 2.5 games ahead of Baltimore for the final wild-card spot. 

Toronto lost 4-1 in the series finale against the Texas Rangers on Sunday, a bullpen day for the Blue Jays. 

Shortstop Bo Bichette has been the offensive catalyst for Toronto in September, slashing .500/.532/1.092 with six homers and 18 RBI. 

Latest on the Rays 

After winning the series opener in New York, the Rays (78-60) dropped two in a row against the Yankees to fall 5.5 games back of the division lead (Toronto is six back). 

The Yankees, whose grip on the division has slipped dramatically after a couple of rough months, won 10-3 on Saturday and 10-4 on Sunday. 

It marked the first time since June 2019 that the Yankees scored in double digits against the Rays. 

Rays starter Luis Patino didn’t get out of the second inning on Sunday. 

Tampa is now 31-36 on the road, in stark contrast to its 47-24 mark at Tropicana Field. 

The Rays got shortstop Wander Franco (right wrist) back from the injured list on Friday. He had been out since July. 

Pitching plans 

While the Blue Jays have not announced starters for the Tuesday doubleheader, it appears Alek Manoah and Mitch White will get the call.

The struggling White was optioned to triple-A Buffalo last week, but is eligible to return as an extra man for the doubleheader. 

Right-hander Kevin Gausman would be in line to start Thursday’s series finale. 

The Rays also have two games to figure out in the series. They had hoped to use Ryan Yarbrough as a bulk pitcher at some point, but he was forced to go five innings on Sunday after Patino’s rocky start. 

But in much better news for the Rays, ace Shane McClanahan (11-5, 2.20 ERA) is expected to return from the IL to start Thursday’s series finale. He has been dealing with a left shoulder impingement.  

McClanahan gave up one run and three hits and struck out 10 in seven innings in a 6-2 win over the Blue Jays on July 2 in Toronto. 

The Rays also are calling several pitchers from triple-A for the series with Criswell slated to make the start in the opener.

Season series 

The Blue Jays are 4-6 against the Rays this season.

Tampa won three of five in a Canada Day weekend series at Rogers Centre. 

That series ended with three consecutive Blue Jays losses, including a doubleheader sweep for Tampa in which Gausman was hurt in the opener when he was hit by a comebacker. 

The Blue Jays then went on the road and lost six of seven, leading to the firing of manager Charlie Montoyo.

The teams split an August mini-series in Tampa with Gausman shutting out the Rays on one hit in eight innings while striking out 10 in a 3-1 win in the opener. The Rays edged Toronto 3-2 the following day with Yusei Kikuchi starting.

The Blue Jays and Rays conclude their season series with four games in Tampa, Sept. 22-25. 

No Canada 

Just like last time, Rays left-handed reliever Brooks Raley will not play in Toronto because he is unvaccinated against COVID-19. 

Fellow Ryan Thompson missed the last series in Toronto for the same reason, but he is now on the injured list. 

Playoff watch 

The Yankees, Mariners and Orioles are all off Monday. 

On Tuesday, the Yankees start a series in Boston against the Red Sox (69-72), the Mariners entertain the San Diego Padres (77-64) and the Orioles make a short trip to Washington to face the lowly Nationals (49-92). 

Up next 

The Blue Jays face the Orioles in a three-game weekend set in Toronto.

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