It has been quite a start to the season for the AL East as surprise teams have emerged as favorites and others as unexpected cellar dwellers. Two of the teams who have performed just about as expected find themselves sitting second the third respectively in the division. These squads, the (10-9) Tampa Bay Rays and (8-10) Toronto Blue Jays meet for an all-important three-game series starting today (7.10pm ET Friday).
Early Observations in the AL East
The MLB season is just about 20 games in and while it is too early to make any sort of substantive determinations about what we have seen thus far, it isn’t too early for some basic observations. One such observation is the recent play of the Rays. After opening up the season at 5-8, the Rays hit the road and went on to win five in a row. It was the best the team has looked all season and while three of these wins came against the mightily struggling New York Yankees, the other two were against the AL Central-leading Kansas City Royals. Over that five-game winning streak, the Rays averaged just under seven runs from the plate while ceding just three from the mound. While the Rays lost their last game against the Royals, the team played well and had every opportunity to get their sixth win in a row.
A largely average team on the stat lines, the Rays recent rise has been bolstered by the early play of Joey Wendle. Wendle is batting .365 with 15 RBI, both numbers good enough for top-10 in MLB. He is an absolute catalyst for an offense that seems to be heating up. They’ve been doing so on the road, making Tampa’s recent stretch even more impressive. The Rays return home to face the Blue Jays, welcoming in their division rivals for the first time this season.
Unlike the Rays, the Blue Jays have yet to find their stretch of great baseball. After starting the season 3-1, the Jays slumped, losing their next four in a row. Since then, it’s pretty much been .500 baseball for Toronto. The team has played better at home than on the road but that hasn’t helped as of late as Toronto is in the midst of a tough road trip. The Blue Jays have already lost four of six away from their temporary home of Dunedin, Florida. Perhaps the home cooking of being close by in Tampa will help the Jays turn their fortunes around.
Toronto is still awaiting the arrival of their big offseason acquisition as George Springer inches closer to making his debut. Without Springer, there is an element of the Blue Jays’ offense that is missing. Couple his absence with the fact that Cavan Biggio has struggled this year, hitting just .146, and it has been tough for Toronto to get going. Fortunately, Vlad Guerrero Jr. Is having the best year of his young career and Dante Bichette is hitting home runs on the regular. If Biggio gets going, which the team is hopeful a move up the order will help facilitate, when Springer finally arrives, this should be one tough offense. In the meantime, the Blue Jays will have to keep treading water, much as they will hope to do in this series against the Rays.
Probable Pitchers: (TOR) Steven Matz vs (TB) Tyler Glasnow
One thing that the Blue Jays have not wanted for this season is an effective starting staff. Anchored by Hyun Jin Ryu, Robbie Ray, and of course, game one’s starter, Steven Matz. Matz came over to the Blue Jays from the New York Mets and so far, he is having the best season of his young career. Matz has made three starts for the Blue Jays, and over 18.1 innings pitched, he has only given up three runs while striking out 18. Matz is a perfect 3-0 in those starts with an ERA of just 1.47 to lead his team. Almost no one this season has been a better six-inning pitcher than Matz as he has been so reliable and the bullpen has taken care of the rest.
Matz will be opposed by one of Tampa’s sterling arms as well in their ace, Tyler Glasnow. One of the main reasons why the Rays were comfortable with trading Blake Snell in the offseason is because of how well Glasnow had come along over the last few seasons. Now, he is continuing to pitch lights out, averaging 13.1 K/9 and surrendering just two earned runs in 24.2 innings pitched. Glasnow is 2-0 with a pristine 0.73 ERA and the lowest WHIP (0.65) in the American League. He also is one of few pitchers yet to give up a home run.
This is a righty/lefty matchup as two of the league’s best young arms are set to meet for the first time in 2021. Glasnow and Matz should be expected to put on a great pitcher’s duel where runs will no doubt be at a premium. Both these pitchers have been lights out, so look for that to continue in their Friday night matchup today.
Our MLB Game Preview’s Toronto Blue Jays vs Tampa Bay Rays Predictions & Betting Picks Verdict
The Blue Jays and Rays are both in a good position to gain ground in the AL East as they take each other on for the first time in 2021. Both have had their starts and stops this year making this an all-important series. Even though the season is still young, it’s never too early to establish yourself, especially in a division as highly contested as the AL East. With the Boston Red Sox off to a stunning start, the Rays and Blue Jays will need to win this series to set themselves up to chase the division leaders. Both are more than capable of doing so. So these are our predictions and betting picks for this MLB game 1 preview:
- This one is a tough call but we like the Rays here on the runline. Tampa’s offense is humming right now and they have one of the AL’s best pitchers on the mound. Bet the Rays -1.5 @ +135 with Bovada, Bookmaker, BetOnline or Intertops.
- As for the total, look for the under seven @ -110 with any of those four previously mentioned top USA-friendly sportsbooks, as this should still largely be a pitcher’s duel in the end.
Marilee writes on NFL, MLB, NBA & tennis for USA Betting. Another area of her sporting journalistic expertise is pro wrestling. A native of Philadelphia and a big Eagles fan, she has been a sports writer for many major websites including Bleacher Report and Rant Sports. She started her journalistic career early, as sports editor for her college newspaper.