The Toronto Blue Jays can't rely on anybody else.
The Jays are in the driver's seat of a playoff race, staving off the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, and a pair of AL West squads. But, with the Red Sox and Yankees winning Tuesday, Toronto found themselves tied for the wildcard spots — a reminder they must earn their own spot.
So, on Wednesday, the Blue Jays did what they'll have to for the rest of the season — what a playoff team does — they took care of their own business. Toronto handed their ace six runs of early and often run support, and the Jays stole a series against the best team in the American League.
“Take care of what we need to take care of,” Robbie Ray said after the win.
Here are takeaways from Wednesday's afternoon win over the Tampa Bay Rays:
1. Robbie Ray: Eyes On The Cy
Robbie Ray turned unfazed toward the Blue Jay dugout, beginning the slow, commanding saunter from the mound to his seat. It’s a walk he’s made countless times this season, with growing confidence and swagger.
As Ray left the mound, Tampa’s Jordan Luplow began back to Tampa’s dugout, the third-straight strikeout from Ray in the second inning after a leadoff double. In two of the first four innings, Ray allowed a leadoff extra-base hit, but both times he casually worked out of it. Ray's strand rate is the best on baseball, and he flashed that again Wednesday, finishing with 13 strikeouts and navigating seven innings of one-run ball.
“I had ‘em on the heater," Ray said, "and later in the game we threw some sliders in situations where they were probably looking for some fastballs and didn’t get it.”
In his last eight starts coming into Wednesday, Robbie Ray allowed more than two earned runs just once, but was credited with a win in just two of those outings. Toronto's six runs were more than enough support for their ace to earn the win against the Rays. He now leads the American League in ERA (2.64) and strikeouts (233), making a strong case for the AL Cy Young.
2. Blue Jays Honor Roberto Clemente
Across Major League Baseball, Wednesday was celebrated as the annual Roberto Clemente Day, celebrating and honoring the legacy of the former Pittsburgh Pirate and Hall of Famer. George Springer, Vlad Guerrero Jr., and other Blue Jays and Rays donned a No. 21, Clemente's number.
Bo Bichette, one of at least seven to wear No. 21 Wednesday, was announced as the Blue Jays nominee for the Roberto Clemente Award on Tuesday. The award is awarded annually to a player who "best exemplifies the game of baseball, sportsmanship, community involvement and the individual's contribution to his team," and manager Charlie Montoyo, as a Puerto Rican, said he was especially proud of Bichette.
"We got a lot of cool kids here, nice kids. But he does a lot of stuff off the field. He's got a chance to win, he's done a lot off the field.”
3. Lineup Punishes Wacha
Randy Arozarena froze in left field, and by the time he properly judged the sinking bullet heading over his head, it was already too late. As Arozarena spun to locate the ball bashing into the outfield wall, Guerrero Jr. was already rolling into second base, pushing Marcus Semien to third. A batter later, Bo Bichette slammed open the scoring with the 25th homer of his season.
Two innings later, the lineup repeated the process: Semien single, Guerrero bullet double to left, Bichette cashes in (this time via sac fly). Bichette paced the Jays Wednesday, driving in five runs on two hits — the second five-RBI game of his career.
“I think we’re a great team," Bichette said. "I expect to win every time we get on the field. We think we’re better than the teams we play, so we go out there with that confidence.”
Against a pitcher with a .868 OPS against right-handed batters in Michael Wacha, the Jays power bats did exactly what they were supposed to do Wednesday. The Rays allowed Wacha to work six innings into the game, and he finished allowing seven hits, six earned runs, walking two Blue Jays, and taking the loss.
4. José Berríos Update
José Berríos left Tuesday’s loss after just 87 pitches. The righty wanted to return for the eighth inning, but the training staff wouldn’t let him after Berríos informed them he felt something in his side.
After the game, Montoyo said his starter was removed with “left abdominal tightness,” but Wednesday afternoon Berríos revealed he felt fine the day after his start. Berríos was doing better than the team expected and is set to make his next start, per Montoyo.
When that start will be, however, remains a question as the Blue Jays have left Sunday’s starter against the Twins unnamed — on a day that would be Alek Manoah’s turn in the rotation, but Berríos’ normal rest. As the season creeps closer to October, Toronto could shuffle their rotation to maximize matchups for the final few series of the season, and potential play-in or wildcard contests.