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Game #76 Preview: Rasmussen vs Kikuchi

Rays (40-34) vs Blue Jays (42-33)

Boston Red Sox at Toronto Blue Jays Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

The Blue Jays welcome the Rays to town to kick off the biggest series of the year, a five games over four days set. Tonight’s game gets underway like normal at 7:07 ET, broadcast live on YouTube for all to watch for free. I believe it is also broadcast like normal on Sportsnet for those still wanting to watch like normal.

Note that I’m gone the rest of the weekend, so this is the only game of the series that will be previewed. Game times for the rest of the series are as follows:
Friday July 1 - 3:07 ET
Saturday July 2 (game 1) - 12:07 ET
Saturday July 2 (game 2) - 6:07 ET
Sunday July 3 - 1:37 ET

Blue Jays’ Starter

Yusei Kikuchi will get another start for the Jays, fighting for his short term life in the rotation. Kikuchi has had an up and very down season, with some absolute gems earlier in the year (remember the 6 shutout innings with just 1 hit against the Mariners?). However, outside of those few starts in early May, he has been nothing short of horrible this year.

On the season, he is 2-4 with a 5.08 ERA and even worse 5.85 FIP. Among the 122 pitchers with at least 50 innings, only James Kaprielian has been noticeably worse. Kikuchi has the worst walk rate in baseball at 5.56 per 9 innings. He has allowed the 4th most home runs per 9 innings at 2.06. His only saving grace, which isn’t saving much is that he hist 10.48 K/9 rate is 13th best, but not really helping him at all.

With that strikeout rate, he could find some value in the bullpen if the Jays decide to pull him from the rotation at this point. But he’ll have today and maybe one more start to prove he belongs in the rotation for a little bit longer.

Rays’ Starter

The Rays will counter with Drew Rasmussen, making his 13th start of the season. Through 58 innings, Rasmussen is 5-3 with a 3.41 ERA. His FIP is coming in a bit higher at 3.89, but still fairly solid. His lack of strikeouts is holding that number back, as he has struck out just 7.60 per 9 innings. His walk rate (2.48 per 9 innings) and home run rate (1.09 per 9 innings) are both better than league average.

Rasmussen faced off against the Jays earlier this year, making the start in Tampa Bay back on May 13. He pitched into the 6th inning in that one, allowing 1 run on just 3 hits, while also allowing just 1 walk and registering 1 strikeout. A third inning single by Chapman and a fourth inning reached on error for Bichette were the only baserunners allowed before the 6th inning. He was dominant, and will likely be a challenge for the Jays’ hitters again today.

Blue Jays’ Lineup

The Jays’ bats are thankfully entering this series nearly full strength (with the exception of Danny Jansen). Alejandro Kirk took a pitch off his elbow yesterday, and that one could be hurting a bit today, but nobody seems to be nursing any noticeable lingering injuries at the moment either. George Springer missed some time a week ago due to elbow discomfort, but that didn’t seem to slow him down yesterday.

Matt Chapman is going to be sad to see the month of June in the rearview mirror. After struggling through the first two months, Chapman has turned it on in June, hitting .274/.337/.536 (145 wRC+) to get his season wRC+ up over 100.

Raimel Tapia, for as much as we don’t want to see him in the lineup, has also had a good month, hitting .296/.306/.507 (125 wRC+). He remarkably was one of 10 Blue Jays with at least 70 PA in the month to post a wRC+ over 100. Bo Bichette (104) and Santiago Espinal (106) are the only ones at a risk of falling below that line today.

Rays’ Lineup

The Rays have been struggling on the offensive side all season. They come into play hitting a combined .234/.298/.373 (97 wRC+). They have scored just 4.03 runs per game, the 6th lowest in all of baseball. And they’re not exactly coming in with full power either. Brandon Lowe, Mike Zunino, Kevin Kiermaier and Manuel Margot are all currently on the IL.

Recently returning from the IL is budding superstar Wander Franco. Franco isn’t having a good sophomore season, hitting just .262/.294/.408 (102 wRC+). As a 21 year old in the Majors, he’s going to have his challenges while learning, as Vladimir Guerrero Jr. can attest to. But the talent is no doubt there to be a major pain for the foreseeable future.

When the Rays traded Austin Meadows to the Tigers at the start of the season, they got Isaac Parades back, someone who looks poised to be just as tormentous towards the Blue Jays. The reigning AL Player of the week is hitting .243/.307/.583 (154 wRC+) on the season.

Yesterday’s Heroes

Bryan Reynolds went 3-5, launching 3 home runs and driving in 6 to take home the Monster Bat award. His big night helped his Pirates squeak past the Nationals 8-7.

Josh Naylor did what the Jays’ bats couldn’t quite do last night. With his team down 6-3 in the bottom of the 10th, Naylor finished the comeback by launching a walkoff 2-run home run to give his Guardians the 7-6 victory over the Twins. Naylor gets the WPA King trophy with his .676 mark.

In an mid-day pitcher’s duel, Justin Verlander (8 shutout innings on 2 hits and a walk) took the Pitcher of the Day victory over Taijuan Walker (7.1 shutout innings on 4 hits and 2 walks). Verlander’s Astros ended up taking the win in the game as well, scoring a pair of runs in the top of 9th to take down the home town Mets 2-0.

Find the Link

Find the link between Isaac Parades and Brendan Harris

Stats retrieved from Fangraphs and Baseball Savant