As they begin a two-game series Tuesday night at St. Petersburg, Fla., the Toronto Blue Jays and Tampa Bay Rays are a study in contrasts.
The Blue Jays are soaring as they begin August with a very real chance of reaching the postseason. The Rays are falling so fast that what once seemed a certain playoff spot is looking like a long shot.
After Sunday’s 4-1 victory against Detroit, the Blue Jays, who went through a 1-9 slide in early July, are 11-3 under new manager John Schneider.
The Blue Jays are three games ahead of the Rays in the American League Central and are 7-2 since returning from the All-Star break with a plus-37 run differential.
“I love it,” Schneider said. “We came from a tough stretch on the road and everything that happened off the field, and I just love the consistency they’re playing with. Offensively, defensively and on the mound. Our bullpen has been awesome. Our starters have been great. The guys are swinging it. It’s fun right now.”
That fun is coming partly because the Blue Jays are winning and partly because Schneider has brought a looser environment. Before Saturday’s game with Detroit, Schneider had a DJ spinning music in the middle of the locker room. Schneider also has brought a style of play that is more aggressive.
“In this situation, we have two more months left in the season,” Toronto pitcher Jose Berrios said. “We’re still there. We have a chance to make the playoffs. Everybody knows we have a chance to add some skill. I don’t know who or when (a trade is) going to happen, but I know it’s going to happen. Right now, we still believe in our group. We have the talent. We have the group.”
As the Rays begin August, they couldn’t be in a much more desperate situation. Since reaching the All-Star break at 51-41, the Rays have lost seven of 10 games and three consecutive series.
To make matters worse, their seemingly untouchable ace Shane McClanahan got roughed up in Sunday’s 5-3 loss to Cleveland. McClanahan lasted only 4 1/3 innings and gave up a season-high-tying seven hits along with five runs.
Help could be on the way sometime around early September when Wander Franco, Harold Ramirez and Manuel Margot are expected to return from injuries. But September could be too late if the Rays continue playing on their current trajectory.
The Rays clearly intend to be active around Tuesday’s trade deadline, as the team was part of two deals on Monday. Tampa Bay picked up outfielder Jose Siri from Houston as part of a three-way trade also involving Baltimore, and they acquired left-handed reliever Garrett Cleavinger from the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Those moves came on the heels of the Rays adding a key bat to their lineup when they traded with Arizona for veteran outfielder David Peralta on Saturday.
General manager Peter Bendix clearly isn’t shutting any doors.
“There is a reasonable chance that the September version of this club is really good,” Bendix told the Tampa Bay Times. “I don’t want to lose sight of that. But I also want to make sure that we don’t fall out of (contention) and be in a position where we have to come back in September.”
If the Rays do make any major moves, they more likely will be designed to help the team on offense.
“Pitching is so expensive. We’re not going to do something that we think is selling out,” Bendix told The Times. “That doesn’t mean we’re not going to pay a high price if it comes to that. We traded Joe Ryan for Nelson Cruz (in 2021). We’re not afraid to do that. It just has to be the right deal.”
Toronto right-hander Kevin Gausman (7-8, 3.30 ERA) will get Tuesday’s start against Tampa Bay right-hander Drew Rasmussen (6-3, 3.17).
–Field Level Media