If the Tampa Bay Rays have a weakness, it might be their relief corps.
The Rays’ lineup is potent, their defense solid, and their starting pitching as tough as it comes — all factors in building the best winning percentage in the majors.
Tampa Bay guaranteed at least a split of its four-game series against the visiting Toronto Blue Jays with a 7-3 win on Wednesday. The set concludes Thursday with Toronto’s Alek Manoah (1-4, 5.15 ERA) opposing Tampa Bay’s Zach Eflin (6-1, 3.45) in a duel of right-handers.
Still, the Wednesday win was tighter than the final score would indicate, Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash acknowledged.
His bullpen nearly blew what looked like a sure victory after ace right-hander Shane McClanahan dominated the Blue Jays for seven innings and left with a 5-1 lead.
Jason Adam, one of Cash’s high-leverage relievers, gave up a homer, a triple, an RBI groundout and a single to the only four batters he faced before Kevin Kelly entered and escaped the eighth-inning jam. The Rays then tacked on two insurance runs in the bottom of the inning.
“The mindset there was … maybe the game was over in the fifth inning tonight,” Cash said. “That’s a mindset we can’t allow ourselves to get into. We’ve got to put these games away when we have the chance, because nobody’s going to give us anything.”
In fact, the Blue Jays nearly took the game away. Toronto’s Cavan Biggio said he thought the Blue Jays could rally against Tampa Bay’s bullpen, and in a pinch-hitting role, he homered on the first pitch he saw from Adam.
“We definitely gave ourselves a chance there, going into the bottom of the eighth, so yeah, it was definitely a little bit of a spark,” Biggio told Sportsnet Canada.
Tampa Bay relievers have a 4.52 ERA (only five major league bullpens have worse ERAs), and Rays’ bullpen has allowed 110 earned runs (only the Oakland Athletics have yielded more, 146).
To get to that relief corps, though, the Blue Jays will have to get past Eflin. The right-hander has struck out 52 in 47 innings this season and has gone at least six innings in four straight starts and five of eight outings this season. In the other three, he completed five innings.
In the past, though, Eflin hasn’t fared well against the Blue Jays. In four games (three starts) against Toronto dating back to 2016, Eflin — who pitched seven years for the Philadelphia Phillies — is 1-2 with a 7.63 ERA in 15 1/3 innings, allowing four home runs but striking out 20.
Manoah has a good track record against Tampa Bay, however. In eight starts going back to 2021, he has made eight starts against the Rays and has a 4-3 record with a 2.57 ERA, striking out 58 Tampa Bay batters in 49 innings.
Of concern for Toronto manager John Schneider will be the status of catcher/designated hitter Danny Jansen, who came out of Wednesday’s game due to left groin tightness after grounding out to second base in the fifth inning.
“We’ll see how the night unfolds,” Schneider said. “We’re taking it literally minute by minute right now,” noting that catcher Tyler Heineman was pulled out in the fifth inning of Triple-A Buffalo’s game to be ready for the parent club if needed.
The Rays won the first game of the series 6-4 on Monday but had to use two position players to pitch in a 20-1 loss to the Blue Jays on Tuesday.
–Field Level Media