ST. PETERSBURG -- The beauty and challenge of the American League Wild Card Series is that, just one game in, the Blue Jays are facing a must-win situation after the Rays and their dominant pitching staff took the Game 1 win, 3-1, on Tuesday at Tropicana Field.
After Blake Snell carried a no-hitter into the sixth inning of Game 1, the Rays will come back with the hard-throwing Tyler Glasnow looking to clinch their spot in the American League Division Series. It won’t be easy, though, as the Blue Jays have saved ace Hyun Jin Ryu for Game 2, where he’s now responsible for keeping Toronto alive.
• AL Wild Card Series presented by Hankook Tire, Game 2: 4 p.m. ET on TBS (Sportsnet in Canada)
If Tuesday’s opener was any clue, then Game 2 could be another tight matchup. Game 1 featured a 1-0 Rays lead entering the bottom of the seventh when, in classic Rays fashion, the player you’d least expect came up in a big moment. Outfielder Manuel Margot, who hit just one home run over 47 games in the regular season, launched a two-run shot to left field to give the Rays some breathing room.
For Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo, who spent 18 years managing in the Rays’ Minor League system before rising to the role of bench coach in the big leagues, that was nothing new.
“I’ve seen that over and over,” Montoyo said. “Last time we were here, [Ji-Man] Choi turned around and hit right-handed, then hit a home run the first time he’d hit right-handed in the big leagues or something like that. That’s what pitching does, though. It keeps you in the game and things like that can happen. I’ve seen that before.”
With Toronto’s 2020 season already on the line, here is how the Blue Jays and Rays match up in Game 2 of the Wild Card Series with first pitch scheduled for 4:07 p.m. ET:
What do the starting lineups look like?
Rays: Despite being left-handed bats, the Rays will likely go with Kevin Kiermaier and Joey Wendle due to their defense. Aside from that, the Rays are going to try to stack the righties in against Ryu. Yandy Díaz hasn’t played since Aug. 31, but he was put on this roster to hit against lefties.
1) Yandy Díaz, DH
2) Randy Arozarena, LF
3) Brandon Lowe, 2B
4) Michael Brosseau, 1B
5) Willy Adames, SS
6) Joey Wendle, 3B
7) Manuel Margot, RF
8) Kevin Kiermaier, CF
9) Mike Zunino, C
Blue Jays: The Blue Jays will mix things up a bit moving from the lefty Snell to right-hander Glasnow. With Danny Jansen in to catch Ryu, fan favorite Alejandro Kirk is swapped out.
1) Cavan Biggio, 3B
2) Bo Bichette, SS
3) Lourdes Gurriel Jr., LF
4) Vladimir Guerrero Jr., DH
5) Randal Grichuk, CF
6) Teoscar Hernández, RF
7) Travis Shaw, 1B
8) Joe Panik, 2B
9) Danny Jansen, C
Who are the starting pitchers?
Rays: Glasnow (5-1, 4.08 ERA) will get the Game 2 start and the Rays feel confident that the right-hander can get them through to the second round. Glasnow struck out 91 batters in 57 1/3 innings this season, which bodes well against a Blue Jays lineup that struck out 12 times in Game 1. While the Blue Jays have faced Glasnow in the past, the right-hander comes in with the advantage that they have not faced him this season.
Blue Jays: Ryu (5-2, 2.69 ERA) is tasked with saving the Blue Jays’ season, which is the perfect job for an ace. Ryu will be pitching on an extra day of rest, which was part of the larger decision to have him in Game 2 instead of Game 1; he has typically pitched better in that situation stretching back to his years with the Dodgers. There is no moment too large for Ryu, who has plenty of postseason experience, and the veteran lefty has been locked in lately. His last start clinched Toronto’s postseason spot with seven shutout innings over the Yankees, and his trademark changeup looked as good as it has all season long.
How will the bullpens line up after the starter?
Rays: The Rays still have plenty of options. Diego Castillo could pitch in back-to-back games and the same goes for Pete Fairbanks. Tampa Bay didn’t use Ryan Thompson, John Curtiss, Shane McClanahan and others so they feel confident about the available arms.
Blue Jays: Montoyo typically has a bullpen plan “mapped out” after his starter, like he did with Robbie Ray following Matt Shoemaker in the opener, but that isn’t typically the case with Ryu. There will be multi-inning power arms available if Ryu falters, including the hard-throwing No. 1 prospect Nate Pearson, but Ryu could easily carry this right to the back-end arms of Rafael Dolis and Anthony Bass.
Are there any relievers who are unavailable?
Rays: Nick Anderson, the Rays’ top reliever, will likely be unavailable for Game 2 after throwing 29 pitches on Tuesday. Other than that, the Rays could try to stay away from Castillo and Fairbanks, but they should be available on back-to-back days, particularly if the Rays have a lead in the late innings.
Blue Jays: Ray obviously won’t be available after throwing 60 pitches in Game 1, but that was more of a piggyback start than a traditional “relief” outing. Right-hander Thomas Hatch threw just 12 pitches and, while he could still be available, the Blue Jays are far likelier to go to Pearson before him. Lefty Ryan Borucki needed just seven pitches, so he and Anthony Kay will be the go-to left-handers with Ray down, and that’s a valuable role given how many left-handed bats the Rays have. Of the two, Borucki would be the shorter option while Kay can pitch in anything from a bulk role to high-leverage.
Any injuries of note?
Rays: No injuries.
Blue Jays: Tellez’s knee looked good in Game 1, but it’s something to keep in mind if he’s on base late in a tight Game 2 as he’s not yet all the way back to 100%.
Who is hot and who is not?
Rays: Arozarena was the Rays’ best player down the stretch and he continued that in the postseason. His leadoff triple in the fourth inning helped the Rays get their first run and they’ll continue to lean on the 25-year-old. Arozarena is batting .368 (7-for-19) with four extra-base hits in his last five games dating back to the regular season. Margot, who hit the decisive two-run homer in Game 1, is batting .330 in 37 games since Aug. 10.
With an 0-for-3 performance on Tuesday, Nate Lowe continues to struggle at the plate. He’s now 2-for-20 with eight strikeouts in his last five games.
Blue Jays: Gurriel recorded the only multi-hit game in the opener, with a double and a single, and has shown a knack for hitting good pitching through this season. He and Guerrero, who was really showing signs of heating up late this season, will need to do some damage if the Blue Jays hope to stay alive.
It’s still tough to call Hernández “cold” at the plate, but he’s clearly still working to regain his timing after missing some time in September with an oblique injury. Prior to hitting the IL, Hernández was one of the hottest hitters in baseball and can still claim 2020 as a true breakout season, but the Blue Jays would love for him to have a defining moment here against the Rays. With some of the best natural power in the game, all he needs to do is barrel one up.
Juan Toribio covers the Rays for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @juanctoribio.
Keegan Matheson is a reporter/editor for MLB.com based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter @KeeganMatheson.