It’s a race to the top in MLB’s most competitive division in this season’s early going, the AL East. On Friday, the Tampa Bay Rays inched one step closer to first place, as they took on and defeated the Toronto Blue Jays in the first of a four-game series. This preview covers their game two matchup today (7.37pm ET Saturday).
Sitting second place to the Boston Red Sox, the Rays have been a pleasant surprise this year, one that looks to continue to shock the league all the way to an AL East crown. Before that happens, the Rays will have to continue to navigate their divisional schedule, where they have performed well so far.
The Blue Jays have also looked impressive, though less so of late. After defeating the Red Sox 8-0 in the opening game of a series last week, bringing the Rays within just a game of the AL East and bringing their record to 7-3 in their last 10, the Jays have proceeded to lose three in a row. Two to Boston and the Friday night opener against Tampa Bay. It is not too late for the Jays to regain a more favorable position in the East, as even after the three-game skid, the team sits just 3.5 games back. They are in fourth place in the division, a testament to just how strong and competitive the AL East has been so far this year.
The Battle of Florida – Round Two
The above headline probably sounds weird but as we’ve addressed earlier this season, the Blue Jays aren’t playing in Toronto this year due to U.S./Canadian borders still being shut due as a result of lingering impacts of the pandemic. While the team will soon be moving back to their temporary home from last season in Buffalo, they’ve played all their games thus far from their spring training home in Dunedin, Florida. It is just a proverbial hop, skip, and a jump away from Tampa Bay. In fact, if you were to make the trip, it’s only an approximately 35-minute drive from one park to the other. This no doubt gives the Rays somewhat of a homefield advantage as it’s an easy trip for their fans to make during this four-game road set.
So yes, technically and traditionally MLB’s Battle of Florida takes place between the Rays and Miami Marlins but those two teams are in opposite leagues and don’t even face each other every season. They do play this year, but it definitely feels, at least for the time being, that the real Battle of Florida for 2021 will be between the two divisional rivals, both of whom have made a strong case for the throne this season.
The first Battle of Florida took place in Tampa Bay where the Jays took a three-game series, 2-1. That was back in late April, about a month ago exactly from when the two teams began their second series in Dunedin. Friday night’s opener was a fantastic back and forth that saw at least one run scored in each of the each of the first six innings save for the scoreless fourth. The Blue Jays opened with the lead, scoring runs in the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 5th innings. The Rays got on board in the third and by the sixth, the game was tied. It remained that way until the 9th inning, causing things to go into extra innings. That’s when things got dicey.
As everyone knows, with the extra inning rules the way they are, every team opens their half-inning with a good chance and reasonable expectation to score at least one run, the free runner on second. This game was no different.
Both teams managed to get their runner to third with less than one out in the 10th but didn’t score. In the 11th, the Jays actually loaded the bases with less than two outs, but failed to bring home the runner and the win, as Cavan Biggio hit into a fielder’s choice which allowed the Rays to get the out at home plate.
Tampa did not squander their own bases loaded opportunity however, as Francisco Mejia hit a grand slam in the top 12th. Toronto managed to get two of those runs back on Vladimir Guerrero Jr.’s second home run of the game (13th of the season) but that was all she wrote as the final score was 9-7, with the Rays on top. It was Tampa Bay’s 8th consecutive win in a row, their longest such winning streak this season.
Game Two Probable Pitchers: (TOR) Robbie Ray vs (TB) Shane McClanahan
The Rays and Jays look to be pretty evenly matched on the mound tonight as Robbie Ray opposes Shane McClanahan. Ray, a now eight-year veteran, spent the bulk of his career with the Arizona Diamondbacks before joining the Jays last year. He proceeded to pitch okay for his new team, posting a 1-1 record and 4.79 ERA in four starts. Ray has been even better this year however, posting a 2-1 record and an ERA a run lower at 3.79. If that number holds, it will be Ray’s lowest career ERA since he finished the 2017 season at a clip of 2.89.
Much less seasoned than his opponent, the 24-year-old McClanahan is in the midst of just his rookie season. Used on last year’s playoff roster which took the Rays all the way to the World Series, McClanahan made his first regular season start in 2021. He hasn’t pitched bad for a rookie, posting a 1-0 record and 4.67 ERA. It is his first year as a starter as 2020 saw him pitch exclusively out of the bullpen. McClanahan has good stuff, though he has struggled in his last two starts and has failed to get out of the fifth innings so far this year. He has kept Tampa in games and their potent offense has done the rest, leading to McClanahan receiving three no decisions and zero losses on the year.
Both these teams have the potential to be offensive juggernauts even if only one of them has shown that lately. The Rays, in the midst of their eight-game winning streak, have scored seven or more runs, seven times. They should have no trouble getting to Ray, who they tattooed for two home runs the last time they faced him in April. The Jays, despite their offensive woes during their own three game losing streak, also have a good shot of keeping yesterday’s bats hot against the uneven McClanahan, who has yet to face a divisional rival this year. As such, this game could come down to whichever team knocks the opposing starting pitcher out first.
Our Betting Preview’s Tampa Bay Rays vs Toronto Blue Jays Game 2 Predictions & Picks Conclusion
So coming to the predictions for this Game 2 MLB matchup, these are our two picks against the bookies:
- As outlined in this preview above, both these AL East foes are capable of putting a lot of runs on the board. That’s why we are advising the over 9.5 on the runline @ evens with Bovada. It is -103 with BetOnline and -105 with Bookmaker.
- As for who wins, look for the Jays to pull themselves out of their rut with a strong showing against Tampa’s rookie pitcher. Take Toronto to win game two at home on the spread -1.5 runs @ +170 with Intertops. It is +165 with Bovada and BetOnline.
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.