After losing their opening series against the Orioles, the Blue Jays (0-2) head down to Florida for a four-game affair against the Rays (2-1). Marcus Stroman gets Thursday’s opener, against Blake Snell (7:10). The Jays will then send out Francisco Liriano to take on Matt Andriese on Friday (7:10). Aaron Sanchez will make his highly anticipated debut opposite Chris Archer on Saturday night (7:10). The finale will see Marco Estrada match up against Jake Odorizzi (1:10).
The Meeting on the Mound
Friday’s game will see Marcus Stroman take the mound for the Jays. Stroman didn’t get much work in during spring training, but he was dominant at the World Baseball Classic, en route to being named tournament MVP. If Stroman can find a more balanced approach to his two-seamer, he could be poised for a big season. On the other side, Blake Snell was very impressive in his rookie campaign. The 24-year-old posted an ERA of 3.54 over 89.0 innings. Snell could be the latest in a long line of impressive Rays’ starters.
A true wild card in this year’s rotation is Francisco Liriano, who will make his season debut on Friday. The veteran left-hander has the potential to be a significant upgrade over last season’s fifth starter, R.A. Dickey. Liriano looked excellent during the spring, as he posted a K/9 of 14.50. Those numbers are likely unsustainable, but they could point to a promising season. For their part, the Rays will turn to Matt Andriese. The right-hander had an ERA of 4.37 in 2016. This will arguably be the most favourable pitching matchup of the series for the Blue Jays.
Saturday’s game will pit each team’s best starter against each other. The Jays will send Aaron Sanchez to the mound. The reigning AL ERA leader was given significant time off during the spring, as the Jays continue to manage his workload to protect his arm. Sanchez has recently had problems with a blister, which will hopefully have minimal impact. The Rays are hoping that 2016 was an aberration for Chris Archer. The leader of the Rays’ staff was dominant from 2013-2015, but took a step back in 2016, when he posted an ERA of 4.02 over 201.1 innings. The bad news for the Jays is that Archer’s ERA dropped to 3.32 over the final three months, which suggests that he figured things out.
Sunday’s finale will mark Marco Estrada‘s second outing of the season. The changeup artist was his usual strong self on Opening Day. Estrada struggled out of the gate, thanks in some part to the defence behind him. Nevertheless, he was able to limit the Orioles to only two runs over 6.0 innings. The Rays will counter with Jake Odorizzi. Like Archer, the Rays’ #2 pitcher took a small step back last season. While he still managed an ERA of 3.69, his peripherals suggested that he was a little lucky. Whether he can continue to outperform those peripherals remains to be seen.
Players to Watch
The Jays didn’t make many big impact moves over the winter. That said, the addition of Steve Pearce for $12.5M over two years might turn out to be a steal. Pearce started his Blue Jays’ career on the right foot, as he picked up three hits on Opening Day against his former teammates in Baltimore. Hopefully Pearce will be able to keep that momentum against former teams going, as he returns to the Trop for four games.
While Pearce was impressive at the plate against Baltimore, Jose Bautista – the team’s real marquee signing from the winter – was equally impressive in the outfield. Bautista was only 1-for-9 against Baltimore, but made several impressive defensive plays. It would bode well for the Jays if he can continue to demonstrate decent range and a strong arm throughout the season. The offence will come around. It’s the defence that is most intriguing.
On the opposite side, the Rays made their own big signing during this winter. To be fair, that signing was an extension, as they inked Kevin Kiermaier to a six-year, $53.5M extension. Kiermaier should continue to provide Gold Glove-calibre defence for years to come. If he can continue to post a wRC+ north of 100, then this contract will be a steal for the Rays.