MLB baseball handicappers assumed the one saving grace to Tampa Bay’s season would be if their received excellent pitching they would have a chance to compete in the American League East.
Since allowing 12 runs in their first two games against Baltimore, the Rays have held opposing to two runs or less four times in winning five of six, which has included the first two tilts at Toronto. If Tampa Bay is going to have success versus the MLB odds, this will be their formula, strong pitching and good defense and hope the offense does enough to pull out wins.
The Rays will look to take a 3-0 edge in this four-game series in Canada and will be in the familiar underdog role.
Tampa Bay Still Manufacturing Wins
Today is Jackie Robinson Day around the big leagues and baseball’s first African-American player would likely approve of how the Rays have assembled a 5-3 record and picked up +2.4 units against the betting odds.
Tampa Bay is strictly middle of the road offensively in scoring 4.1 runs a contest, but it’s been the little things that have mattered. Manager Kevin Cash is taking the organizational lead of what helped make the Rays a winning team after years of losing. Other than Evan Longoria, opposing teams are not going to spend a lot of time trying to work around other hitters in the Tampa Bay lineup. Yet, they are fifth in the AL in on-base percentage.
This is not being accomplished by a paltry .224 batting average, rather by being second in AL in walks (38) to Boston, thanks to their patience at the dish. When certain players are on the base-paths, they are raising havoc and are second the junior circuit with 10 steals.
Even though the pure talent level between these two division rivals is a fairly large chasm, Tampa Bay is more fundamentally sound which gives them a chance as long as the pitching holds up.
Toronto Floundering at Home
The Blue Jays offense was on fire to begin the season, averaging 6.3 RPG, all on the road, and looked like they would be a popular choice for MLB picks in April with a homestand which started with two losing teams in the Rays and Atlanta.
Unfortunately, the home cooking has not been as positive, scoring three total runs in the first two games. Aside from Jose Reyes (.333 BA, .361 OBP) and Kevin Pillar (.290 BA), the Blue Jays are a collection of .230 hitters or worse and they are averaging less than three walks per game.
All the big boppers like Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and Josh Donaldson are not making connections and in fact the power famished Rays have more home runs than the bruisers from Toronto ( 7 to 6). Hard to say if the Jays players need to relax or play with more purpose, but whatever it is, manager John Gibbons club has wasted two well pitched games for their staff.
Pitching Matchup – Ramirez vs. Buehrle
Erasmo Ramirez is being placed in the starting rotation with his new team with five other Tampa Bay starting pitchers on the DL. Ramirez allowed seven runs, six hits and walked three in two innings of relief in his debut against Miami on Friday. The right-hander has only been with Tampa for just over two weeks after three seasons in Seattle, where he was 7-12 with a 4.72 ERA in 35 starts. Once thought to be a back of the rotation hurler, his loss of speed and command of fastball has him behind in counts and opposing hitters are sitting on quality changeup knowing he has to use it to throw strikes.
Mark Buehrle reached his 200th victory in his first start at Baltimore. The left-hander joins CC Sabathia, Tim Hudson and Bartolo Colon as the only active pitchers to reach that milestone. Buehrle works both sides of the plate expertly with his well below-average fastball, but cuts it against hitters on either side of the batter’s box. For a different look, he mixes in different curves to alter their eye angles and swing planes. Buehrle and the Blue Jays are 11-4 at home against winning teams.
Toronto’s Josh Donaldson is off to a poor start this season and is 2 for 12 with a homer and three strikeouts against Ramirez.
Normally Blue Jays sluggers Bautista and Encarnacion are worthy of consideration, but they are batting a combined .193 with three home runs this season.
The Rays Desmond Jennings welcomes the idea of facing Buehrle and is batting .409 lifetime to prove it. Look for him to be DH today.
Odds and Outcome
Sportsbooks published Toronto as a -155 money line favorite with a total of 8.5. While I certainly admire the way Tampa Bay has played to this point, the pitching matchup appears to be severely tilted against them and Toronto is 17-6 as home favorite with Buehrle on the bump. With this MLB pick, I’ll back the birds to end the Rays winning streak.
MLB Free Pick – Toronto wins