Entering the 2014 campaign, I projected Tampa Bay as a legitimate 100-win team, and I am not backing down from that prediction despite the Rays’ 1-2 start. My bullish projection on the Rays was based, in part, upon their improved team chemistry both on and off the field. “I’m getting a better vibe this year, to be honest with you,” Evan Longoria said. “We kind of have the same group, so we’ve been able to build upon what we started last year and the new guys have bought in early. And it seems like they have come in with the attitude and the idea that they’re going to conform to the idea of being whatever it is we define as being a Ray and do it wholeheartedly. And I think that’s made us closer already.”
Tampa Bay Starter Christopher Archer:
Tampa Bay right-hander finished 2013 with a 3.22 ERA and 1.13 WHIP over 128 2/3-innings of work. And, despite not joining the Rays from Triple-A Durham until June 1, Archer still managed to lead American League rookies who pitched at least 100 innings in ERA, opponents’ batting average (.226), complete games (two), shutouts (two) and WHIP (1.13). Scouting reports and empirical evidence alike suggest that Archer possesses a strikeout pedigree as evidenced by his career 9.6 K/9 rate at the Triple-A level and his 95 mph average fastball in the majors.
Archer’s skill set surged in the second half of last season as his 95-mph fastball velocity was the second highest in the American League. In fact, only Cleveland’s Danny Salazar had a higher four-seam fastball velocity in the second half of 2013 among American League pitchers with at least forty innings pitched. Let’s also note that Archer is 1-0 with a career 1.65 ERA and 1.164 WHIP versus the Blue Jays (16.3 IP; 3 ER; 14 H; 10 K; 5 BB). I expect similar success tonight as Toronto’s most dangerous weapons are right-handed bats, which is significant in that righties have batted just .173 versus Archer in his career.
Archer recently signed a six-year contract extension that guarantees at least $25.5 million and could reach upwards of $43.75 million if the options are picked up. “My complete focus for the past two weeks has been on the Blue Jays’ lineup and now I’m looking forward to going out there and executing,” said Archer after inking the deal. Meanwhile, the players are extremely happy about the Archer’s contract extension. “I’m excited for him,” Wil Myers said. “I think that’s awesome for him to be able to do that. It sets him up for life. He’s a great pitcher. I know he’s excited about it, so I’m happy for him.”
Archer is also coming off an impressive spring wherein he was 1-0 with a 0.90 ERA and 0.80 WHIP in ten innings pitched (10 IP; 7 H; 1 ER; 9 K; 1 BB). Archer is supported by an outstanding Tampa Bay bullpen that owns a 1.00 ERA and 0.889 WHIP this season, including posting an 8/3 K/BB ratio in nine innings of work/
Toronto Starter Brandon Morrow:
Toronto right-hander Brandon Morrow has watched a once-promising career disappear behind endless injuries and setbacks. Morrow was placed on the disabled list last June due to recurring soreness in his forearm, and he was ultimately diagnosed with an entrapped radial nerve in his right forearm by renowned surgeon Dr. James Andrews. Morrow missed the remainder of the 2013 campaign and failed to show much improvement during this year’s spring training. Specifically, Morrow was 0-2 with a 5.74 ERA and 1.34 WHIP in 15.2 innings of work, over which time he allowed ten earned runs on 15 hits and four walks. Let’s also note that Morrow is 5-6 with a career 3.96 ERA and 1.24 WHIP versus the Rays, but he has yielded a combined 18 earned runs on 26 hits over his last four outings against Tampa Bay (21.7 IP).
Tropicana Field is Kryptonite for the Blue Jays:
Tampa Bay is 26-13 (+10.2 units) in this series over the last three seasons, including 15-6 (+7.2 units) at home. In fact, Toronto has not won a series at Tropicana Field since April 6-8, 2007, with Tampa Bay going 19-0-1 in series play since then. The Rays’ 148 wins over Toronto and their 83 wins at Tropicana Field are their most against any opponent.
Toronto in Disarray with Injuries:
Finally, Toronto’s bullpen is in disarray to start the 2014 campaign as closer Casey Janssen is on the fifteen-day disabled list with a lower back strain. And, while management has designated Sergio Santos to be the team’s temporary closer in Janssen’s absence, it should be noted that Santos lost eight pounds with an intestinal issue earlier this month and missed several days of work.
And, just when Toronto didn’t think it could get worse, veteran shortstop Jose Reyes was placed on the 15-day disabled list following Monday’s game because of tightness in his left hamstring. The Blue Jays purchased the contract of infielder Jonathan Diaz from Triple-A Buffalo to take Reyes’ spot on the 25-man roster. Diaz is an elite defender, but an extremely light hitter as evidenced by his .230 career average and .655 OPS over the course of eight seasons in the Minor Leagues.
Take Tampa Bay to keep its series record against the Blue Jays intact and invest with confidence.