Blue Jays stars believe they can get past the Rays as they head into their first postseason
The Toronto Blue Jays will kick off their postseason run in the same place their regular season began more than two months ago, Tropicana Field against the Tampa Bay Rays.
The Blue Jays, young, inexperienced but super-talented and energetic, have grown over the season. Their core superstars, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, and Cavan Biggio, played their first full season in 2020. Teoscar Hernandez emerged as a promising slugger, arguably the best the Blue Jays have had since Jose Bautista. In spite of all expectations and having to play the entire year away from their home ballpark, they won 32 games and earned a spot in the playoffs for the first time in four years.
One thing they don’t have, though, is postseason experience. Randal Grichuk played 13 games for the Cardinals, Travis Shaw 12 with the Red Sox and Brewers, while Joe Panik won a World Series ring with the Giants in 2014. Aside from that, the Blue Jays will be getting their first taste of October baseball beginning on Tuesday. Six members of their everyday lineup have never played in the playoffs, including Guerrero, Biggio, Bichette, and Hernandez.
Understandably, the Blue Jays head into the best-of-three opening series against the Rays as heavy underdogs. The Rays finished the season with the best record in the American League and are appearing in the playoffs for the second straight year. Manager Kevin Cash is able to manipulate his deep lineup and utilize the strong arms on his pitching staff to beat up opposing teams.
It will be a daunting task beating the Rays two out of three games, but the Blue Jays can do it. They hung in almost every game against Tampa Bay this season. Although the Rays won six of their 10 meetings, four of those wins were by one run. The Blue Jays outscored the Rays 48-44.
Four Blue Jays batters—Hernandez, Grichuk, Biggio, and Guerrero—played all 10 games against the Rays this season. Three of them had an OPS above 1.030 in those games, while Guerrero had an OPS of .913. Hernandez hit four home runs and batted .351 in 37 at-bats against the Rays.
They also finished the season strong. The Blue Jays won six of their last eight games of the regular season to secure the eighth seed in the AL playoffs. Guerrero hit .342 over his last 10 starts to raise his season average from .242 to .262; he struck out just twice in 40 plate appearances.
Blue Jays have to count on Hyun Jin Ryu
Any hope of winning the series, though, rests on the Blue Jays pitching matching that of the Rays. Hyun Jin Ryu, in his first season in a Blue Jays uniform, finished the year with a 2.69 ERA (fourth in the AL). The Rays have the ability to change their lineup to counter an opposing starter, throwing a heavy dose of right-handers at Ryu when he starts Game 2. But Ryu was just as solid against righties this season as against left-handers, holding right-handed batters to a .238 average and .652 OPS. The last time he faced the Rays, back on Aug. 22, he gave up just one run on three hits over five innings.
The addition of potential Game 3 starter Taijuan Walker at the trade deadline bolstered Toronto’s depth in the starting rotation. Walker had a 1.37 ERA in six starts with the Blue Jays and didn’t surrender more than one earned run over his last four starts. Game 1 starter Matt Shoemaker made only one start since coming off the IL but held the Yankees to one run on Sept. 21. Robbie Ray, another trade deadline pickup, can be a valuable left-hander out of the bullpen, while hard-throwing Nate Pearson is back from injury and available to pitch in relief.
The majority of Blue Jays have never been in this position, but that doesn’t mean they’re intimidated by the Rays. They know how talented they are and believe they can beat anyone. “We’ve seen them. They’re definitely very good, no doubt about it,” Bichette said on Monday. “But if we go up there and we trust ourselves, I guess you could say let our talent go…I think we have a really good shot.”
The Blue Jays already defied expectations just getting to the postseason. They might be just young enough to not know any better about being scared of this moment.