Starting Monday, the Blue Jays begin what is probably the most important regular-season series they’ve played in about half a decade. Toronto will host the Tampa Bay Rays for three games, sitting precariously in the second wild-card spot. The series against the league’s best team will go a long way in figuring whether the Jays are birds to beware or just songbirds.
How did we get here? Ten days ago the Jays were five games out of the wild card and wondering if they were going to need to reload this offseason to make a playoff push in 2022.
But Toronto has won 11 of 12 and now are one full game ahead of the stumbling Yankees. The Jays are also just a single game behind division rival Boston for the right to host the wild card game. Talk about change of fortune.
Series Preview: Rays At Jays
Monday, September 13
The Jays have been scoring like an NFL team the last few days, but this matchup could be the pitching duel of this series. Rookie Alek Manoah will face Collin McHugh, making his first start since August 16. The Rays use McHugh like a Swiss Army Knife: however they need to and whenever there’s an emergency. He’s tall, fires strikes, and gets lots of swings-and-misses. On other words, he’s like every pitcher the Rays roll out there.
Best Bet: Jays in a close one.
Tuesday, September 14
The Rays will roll out Drew “The Puyallup Prince” Masmussun, who has only made seven starts in his career. He’s another one of those pitchers the Rays seem to find and use perfectly to maximize his effectiveness. He might be an opener, he might give you five innings, but he Rasmussen won’t go deep. On the other side, Toronto will pitch José “The Machine” Berríos, who has gone into the seventh inning in each of his last three starts and looked very good.
Best Bet: Jays in a rout: expect homers from the Toronto lineup.
Wednesday, September 15
Toronto ace Robbie Ray will step on the hill to finish the series. Ray leads the league in ERA and K’s, and despite a poor outing last week where he only lasted four innings, he seems to be getting stronger as the season wears on. He has a devastating slider that confounds hitters from both sides of the plate.
Best Bet: Take Ray and 8+ K’s in a Toronto Win
If you’re keeping score, I have the Jays sweeping these three games. Even if they take two, their position in the wild card spot will be strengthened.
Odds Shift for Blue Jays to Win Pennant
|Sportsbook||Odds on September 1||Odds on September 13|
Checking In On The Jays and the Awards Races
AL Most Valuable Player
The money is still on Shohei Ohtani to haul off the MVP award, based on his two-way superstar season. But boy is Vlad Guerrero Jr. making voters take notice. This month, Vlad The Younger is hitting .380 with 19 hits in 12 games, including five homers and six runs batted in. He leads the AL in batting, home runs (tied with Ohtani with 44), and is five back of José Abreu for the RBI lead. The kid could win the Triple Crown(!) and not win the MVP award.
The last time a batterer won a Triple Crown and failed to win the MVP award was in 1947, when dour Ted Williams did it. The award that year went to Joe DiMaggio, who was the darling of sportswriters.
AL Cy Young Award
In his last start, Robbie Ray was beaten down like a rented clown, no offense. Don’t mean to disparage professional clowns. Love their little cars and special frizzy wigs. But point stands: Ray allowed eight hits, including a pair of dingers in just four innings last week against the usually timid Orioles. The lefty still leads the AL in strikeouts and ERA, and with Gerrit Cole of the Yankees possibly struggling with an injury, Ray has a chance to win the Cy Young.
Ray will probably make four more starts, including Wednesday in the series finale at the Rogers Centre against the Rays. A couple wins and solid performances in his final starts could secure the award for Ray, who is pitching for his third team and has never previously even been an All-Star. Sometimes an ace appears from your sleeve.