The Tampa Bay Rays won two-thirds of their games this season to secure both the American League East title and the AL’s top seed.
Winners of nine of their past 11 contests, the Rays (40-20) look to continue their good fortune on Tuesday when they host Game 1 of their best-of-three wild-card series against the eighth-seeded Toronto Blue Jays (32-28).
“It’s been a strange run,” Tampa Bay infielder Joey Wendle said. “We’re the (No.) 1 seed in the American League and in terms of regular season that was as good as we could have hoped for.”
Wendle likely has no qualms about his fortune of late, considering he is 13-for-28 (.464) with two homers and seven RBIs during an eight-game hitting streak.
But now it’s a “new” season for the Rays, who received plenty of fight from their next opponent during the truncated, 60-game campaign. Sure, Tampa Bay won six of the 10 meetings against the division rival, but four of those victories were by one run and the Blue Jays actually outscored the Rays by a 48-44 margin.
Tampa Bay left-hander Blake Snell (4-2, 3.24 ERA) will get the nod in the opener and face Toronto for the third time in 2020. The 2018 AL Cy Young Award recipient allowed two runs over 7 2/3 innings in two starts versus the Blue Jays this season and has a 4-3 record with a 2.81 ERA in 13 career starts against Toronto.
Lourdes Gurriel Jr. went 5-for-28 (.179) in the season series against Tampa Bay, but he belted a solo homer off Snell in Toronto’s 6-4 win on Aug. 24. The 26-year-old left fielder recorded eight hits in his last four games, including a two-run homer to highlight his 4-for-4 performance in the Blue Jays’ 7-5 setback to Baltimore on Sunday.
That was one of just two defeats for Toronto in the last eight regular-season games.
“Our confidence right now is great,” Gurriel said through a translator. “We have pretty much everybody healthy. From one through nine, the lineup is good and everybody is feeling great right now, which is what you want going into the playoffs.”
Vladimir Guerrero Jr., who also went deep in the season finale, is 12-for-27 (.444) with two homers, eight RBIs and seven runs during his past seven games. The 21-year-old also fared well in the season series versus Tampa Bay, knocking out 11 hits while belting two homers and scoring six times.
The Blue Jays got a bit creative on Monday in announcing that right-hander Matt Shoemaker — as opposed to ace left-hander Hyun Jin Ryu — will get the nod for the series opener. The decision to do so may be to give Ryu an extra day’s rest after he tossed 100 pitches over seven scoreless innings in a 4-1 win over the New York Yankees on Thursday.
“They are one of the best teams in baseball, so we have to be creative,” Toronto manager Charlie Montoyo said on Monday. “Our ace will be pitching the second game, but they got like four aces over there!”
Shoemaker (0-1, 4.71 ERA) last pitched on Sept. 21, when he allowed one run on three hits in three innings in a no-decision against the New York Yankees. That start was his first since returning from a right shoulder injury.
The 33-year-old veteran made three of his six starts this season versus the Rays, against whom he surrendered six runs on 10 hits in 15 innings. He owns a 4-0 record with a 2.56 ERA and 1.01 WHIP in seven career meetings with Tampa Bay.
Brandon Lowe is 3-for-7 with a solo homer in his career versus Shoemaker.
Lowe trampled Toronto during the regular season, going 13-for-37 (.351) with three homers, nine RBIs and seven runs. The 26-year-old led the Rays in homers (14), RBIs (37), runs (36), hits (52) and total bases (107).
–Field Level Media