Opening Day FAQ: Blue Jays vs. Rays

July 23rd, 2020

While the Rays enter the season as clear contenders to dethrone the Yankees for the American League East crown, the Blue Jays are trying to show that some of their offseason acquisitions can help them get in the conversation, especially during a condensed 60-game season.

The Rays are led by perhaps the best pitching staff in the Majors. Tampa Bay has three legitimate AL Cy Young Award candidates in Blake Snell, Tyler Glasnow and Charlie Morton. The Rays also have a plethora of options in the bullpen, where they’re led by Nick Anderson and Diego Castillo. The club also bolstered its lineup by signing Japanese slugger Yoshi Tsutsugo and making individual trades for Hunter Renfroe and José Martínez.

The Blue Jays don't quite have the pitching the Rays do, but they're led by a spectacular young core of position players. Bo Bichette, Cavan Biggio, Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. are the four main pieces, and if all continue to improve, they could form one of the best lineups in the AL this season. In order to complement the young core, the Blue Jays made a free agent splash, signing starter Hyun Jin Ryu to a four-year deal.

However the division shakes out remains to be seen, but the Rays and Blue Jays are in line to play 10 competitive games this season.

When is the game and how can I watch it?
First pitch is scheduled for 6:40 p.m. ET on Friday at Tropicana Field. The game will be televised on both Fox Sports Sun and Sportsnet, along with MLB.TV. The game will also be transmitted on 95.3 WDAE and Sportsnet 590 The FAN.

The starting lineups
Blue Jays: The Blue Jays’ lineup is topped by their young core, followed by a run of streaky hitters who could ultimately decide just how strong this offense is. Bichette has found a home in the leadoff role, and with Biggio’s on-base ability out of the two-spot, Gurriel and Guerrero should have plenty of opportunities to drive in runs. Guerrero actually prefers that Gurriel hits ahead of him, as he feels pitchers attack him similarly.

Beyond that, the likes of Teoscar Hernández, Travis Shaw and Randal Grichuk could all get hot, with Shaw expected to follow Guerrero and break up the right-handed bats. That stretch of hitters will need to hit for power, though, as the bottom half of the lineup isn’t as on-base focused.

Rays: The Rays are going to platoon all season, and don’t be surprised if manager Kevin Cash fills out 60 different lineup cards in the process. In fact, you should probably expect it. With Ryu on the mound, it’s likely that the Rays will stack as many right-handed options as possible. Ryu limited left-handed hitters to a .199 average last season, while righties hit .245 against him. Because of that, there’s a chance that Yandy Díaz slides over from third to first base in order to lengthen out the lineup.

With Tommy Pham no longer securing the No. 2 spot, that responsibility could fall on Renfroe, at least at the start. Brandon Lowe, Ji-Man Choi and Tsutsugo are the three most prominent left-handed bats in the lineup, so it’ll be interesting to see what Cash decides.

It’s safe to bet that Díaz will lead off against the left-hander, but then it gets very tricky. Trying to predict a Rays lineup this season will be nearly impossible, but let’s take our best guess for Opening Day.

Who are the starting pitchers?
Blue Jays: Ryu makes his second consecutive Opening Day start, but his first with the Blue Jays after signing a four-year, $80 million deal this past offseason. Ryu is coming off a great season with the Dodgers, where he carried a sub-2.00 ERA through much of the season before ending with a 2.32 mark. Ryu was able to get regular work throughout the shutdown and he came into Summer Camp built up well, so that shouldn’t be an issue. In his final intrasquad game in Toronto, the left-hander threw five innings and nearly 80 pitches, and said he felt ready to take on a regular workload.

Rays: For the first time in his 13-year Major League career, Opening Day belongs to Morton. He was the Rays’ ace last season, starting a career-high 33 games and finishing third in AL Cy Young Award voting after going 16-6 with a 3.05 ERA. Morton’s workload would have been carefully monitored during a 162-game season, but there’s more wiggle room now that it’s a condensed schedule. Morton said he feels like his stuff and command are ready to go. After throwing five innings during his simulated games, that should be a fair expectation for Morton heading into Opening Day.

How will the bullpens line up after the starter?
Blue Jays: Ken Giles is Toronto's rock on the back end, but other roles are still up in the air and those competitions will carry into the season. Right-hander Rafael Dolis would be the best bet to see eighth-inning work early, but Anthony Bass and Canadian right-hander Jordan Romano could also challenge for high-leverage innings. There will be no shortage of options if the Blue Jays need some bulk in this series, either, as they’re carrying multiple starters in their bullpen while rosters are still at 30 players.

Rays: Tampa Bay will rely heavily on a bullpen that does not lack options, even with Colin Poche being out for the 2020 season with a torn UCL. Nick Anderson and Diego Castillo will likely handle most of the high-leverage situations, but the Rays also have Chaz Roe and Oliver Drake. Pete Fairbanks has been a standout during Summer Camp and he could be an option late in games, as well. Andrew Kittredge threw three dominant innings during Monday’s intrasquad game, and he could be the team’s multi-inning option. José Alvarado remains the wild card. If he returns to his 2018 form, Alvarado will make a case for the closer spot. If he resembles what he did last season, the Rays won’t have much confidence going to him in a close game.

Any injuries of note?
Blue Jays: Gurriel dealt with some left side discomfort late in Summer Camp, but he is expected to be OK after getting some light work in recently. Starter Chase Anderson was placed on the 10-day injured list to start the season with a strained right oblique, which opened up the No. 5 spot in the rotation. Otherwise, Toronto has stayed fairly healthy.

Rays: On the field, the Rays have been able to stay healthy during Summer Camp. Unfortunately, the club has had four known cases of COVID-19. Martínez, Glasnow and Yonny Chirinos have all returned to the team and appear to be in line to be ready for Opening Day. Austin Meadows is one of five players who contracted the virus and he was placed on the injured list to begin the season. Randy Arozarena was placed on the Minor League COVID-19 injured list due to a positive test, while Brendan McKay was optioned after not being in camp since July 6 for undisclosed reasons.

Who is hot and who is not?
Blue Jays: Some of Toronto's starters beyond Ryu were hit hard in camp, including Tanner Roark, but much of the club’s Summer Camp was focused on individual work due to the unique setup at Rogers Centre, where the Blue Jays were operating under a modified quarantine.

Bichette, meanwhile, wore pitchers out, often attacking them very early in his first plate appearance in intrasquad games -- so keep an eye on his aggression early in counts. Biggio looked comfortable at the plate, too, while Tellez might have been the club’s hottest hitter in Toronto. Guerrero had his moments, with a big home run late in camp, but there wasn’t much hard contact prior to that, as he continues to work to lift the ball more.

Rays: Tampa Bay’s pitching dominated most of the intrasquad games. Castillo, Anderson and Fairbanks have been consistently impressive. Drake and Kittredge started off a bit slow, but they had much better outings at the end of camp. Same goes for Roe. Alvarado had an inconsistent Summer Camp and will need to throw strikes consistently during the regular season.

At the plate, Zunino has been a standout during Summer Camp. The Rays catcher is looking to bounce back after a disappointing 2019 season, and he has hit three home runs in the last week. Díaz has also been a nightmare for Rays pitchers, consistently putting together good at-bats.

Anything else fans might want to know?
• Nate Pearson, Toronto's No. 1 prospect, was left off the 30-man roster for this opening series, but he will be traveling with the club as part of its taxi squad. The Rays won't face the flamethrowing right-hander this time, but when the teams meet again in mid-August, Pearson is expected to be up with the big league club, where he could immediately slot in as the No. 2 option behind Ryu.