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MLB Playoffs: Tampa Bay and Toronto Go Head-to-Head in an AL East Wild Card Matchup

The Tampa Bay Rays and Toronto Blue Jays meet up in the Wild Card round as these two Beasts of the AL East clash.

Tampa Bay Rays Opening Day by City of St. Pete is licensed under CC BY ND-2.0

MLB Playoffs: Tampa Bay and Toronto Go Head-to-Head in an AL East Wild Card Matchup

Estimated Reading Time: 4 Minutes

Well, the 2020 MLB Playoffs are upon us.  As baseball finally moves into it’s Bubble phase, 16 teams are squaring off to determine this year’s World Series champion.  While it’s hard to think that there won’t be an asterisk next to the 2020 title, a champion will be crowned.

The MLB is a fickle beast.  Star-driven and tank-friendly, teams in the dumpster one year can be the king of the mountain the next.  With that, stakes are high for almost every team as they make their playoff run, with sought-after stars often heading for greener pastures if they feel their squad can’t get over the hump. 

We’re looking at each MLB playoff series and diving into what’s at stake for each team, how they stack up, and the keys to victory for each squad.

So, let’s check-in ahead of the Wild Card series between the Tampa Bay Rays and Toronto Blue Jays.

2020 marks the second time the Rays will make the playoffs in the Kevin Cash era in Tampa. The first playoff appearance for Cash’s Rays came last year when they took the eventual AL Champion Astros to 5 games in the ALDS. That series came after the Rays demolished the Athletics in a Wild Card game that was over before it started. The Rays have had an incredibly strong 2020 season, and they hope that they can carry that through to their first ALCS appearance since 2008.

The Blue Jays last playoff appearance came in 2016, when Cleveland took them out in the ALCS. This Blue Jays team looks completely different from the one four years ago, and there’s a reason for that. The Blue Jays went into a truncated rebuild mode, focusing their efforts on cultivating their farm system over resigning aging veterans.

Former Blue Jays Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, Kevin Pillar, Russell Martin, JA Happ, and Marcus Stroman have gone. In their place, Hyun Jin Ryu, Taijuan Walker, Bo Bichette, Cavan Biggio, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Teoscar Hernandez, and Lourdes Gurriel. This Toronto team is just beginning their rise to dominance in the AL East, and that thought should keep Blue Jays fans warm all winter.

Tampa Bay’s Keys to Victory: Stop the Blue Jays Bats, Jump Out Early

The Rays were only outscored by two opponents in 2020: The Washington Nationals in their 3 game series, and the Toronto Blue Jays in their 10 meetings. While the Rays, haven’t faced Toronto since mid-August, the Blue Jays have gone 6-1 in their last week of play.

Toronto is coming into the postseason hot, and with their penchant for outscoring the Rays, that could spell disaster for the Rays. Getting out in front of Toronto will be paramount to the Rays success.

That’s easier said than done, considering that the Rays have only scored 26% of their runs this season in the first three innings. If they can jump out in front of Toronto, they can give their pitching staff some breathing room.

That’s only a piece of the equation, as the Rays arms have to hold up their half of the bargain.

The Rays pitching staff has been decent in the first three innings of their games, and have been lights out from the 7th onwards. It’s the middle innings where things can get away from Tampa Bay. This season opposing hitters are hitting at a .272 clip, with an .800 OPS against the Rays.

If that scares you, then the fact that the Blue Jays are slashing a .305/.374/.535, with a .909 OPS in that same sample should scare you more, as the Rays posted a 4.25 ERA against them in the regular season. The Rays need to get out ahead early to give themselves some cushion ahead of the potential onslaught in the middle innings.

Toronto’s Keys to Victory: Get to the Rays Starters, Don’t Let Off the Gas

The Rays bullpen has been solid for them in 2020, but their starters can be shaky. This is not the Blake Snell, Charlie Morton, and Rays rotation we’re used to seeing. Even Tyler Glasnow has had rough spots this season. If the Jays can jump out early and send the Rays gameplan into a tailspin, then they can control the series.

Once they get the upper hand, they cannot let up the gas. The Rays teams managed by Kevin Cash have always been cold, calculated killers, and this year is no different. This is a Rays team that has remained relatively intact from the roster that almost knocked out the Astros last year. Don’t forget that fact if you’re Toronto. Acknowledge it, and don’t take your foot off the gas.

Final Call: Tampa Bay in 3

The Tampa Bay Rays have come too far this year to lose to the Blue Jays in the opening round. There’s no way, not after last year. This is a Tampa Bay team with a lot to prove to the rest of the AL East, so why not start with a solid victory in the first round.

For the Blue Jays, let this be a sign of things to come. This team is good and can only get better, but Toronto is simply outmatched.

Justin Colombo is a 2017 Broadway Show Softball League All-Star at 3B/SS. He's essentially the Manny Machado of the Kinky Boots team. Justin has been writing about Baseball since he was a little kid. Now that being an actor in NYC has given him a lot of free time, in 2015 he decided to take his passion public and founded Three Up, Three Down as a way to express his love for the game. From there, Three Up, Three Down grew from a hobby to an obsession. After years of growth and one insult from MLB's Historian, Justin launched The Turf, a way to expand into all areas of the sporting world. Follow him on Instagram and Twitter. LET'S. GO. METS.

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