Gregor Chisholm: If the Blue Jays max out Robbie Ray and José Berríos down the stretch, the playoff rotation will fall into place

Gregor Chisholm: If the Blue Jays max out Robbie Ray and José Berríos down the stretch, the playoff rotation will fall into place
The Blue Jays have an opportunity to reset their rotation following Thursday’s off-day, and as they attempt to make one final push for the post-season the top priority should be making sure left-hander Robbie Ray starts as many big games as possible.

Earlier in the year, the rotation was one of their biggest weaknesses. After José Berríos was acquired at the trade deadline and rookie Alek Manoah emerged as an impact arm, it has since become one of their greatest assets.

There are a lot of quality options at manager Charlie Montoyo’s disposal but none better than Ray, who is putting the finishing touches on a career year that might result in an American League Cy Young Award.

The goal for the Jays leading into the final two weeks of the regular season, and what the club hopes will become a deep run into October, is getting the most out of Ray. That means skipping someone else and putting the pending free agent on the mound every five days to face the Tampa Bay Rays, Minnesota Twins and New York Yankees.

If the Jays follow that plan it would also put Ray in position to start the AL wild-card game on normal rest, assuming they make it that far, and while there are other candidates with enough talent to be considered for the job, the 29-year-old from Tennessee has undeniably earned the right to pitch in must-win games.

Beyond Ray’s success in 2021, he’s a wise choice to become the priority arm because the eight-year veteran has been through all this before and knows what to expect. First as a member of the Arizona Diamondbacks when he tossed 2 1/3 innings out of the bullpen in the 2017 NL wild-card game. Then last season when he pitched three innings for the Jays in Game 1 of their series against the Rays.

“I think it’s just sticking to the process, not letting outside factors, outside noise, get to us,” said Ray, who leads the AL with a 2.64 ERA, 233 strikeouts and 22 quality starts. “Take care of what we need to take care of in the clubhouse, and get your work done every day and go about your business.

“Everybody’s talking about it. It’s a wild-card race. We’re in the thick of it and these are some meaningful games that we’re playing. I feel like if you can just tune out that noise and go about your process, just every day, you’re going to be in a good spot.”

Before teams map out post-season rotations, they usually have to clinch a spot first. Luckily for the Jays, both things can be done simultaneously. If all five starters remain on the current schedule, Ray would miss the crucial Yankees series and his final outing wouldn’t come until Oct. 2 against the Orioles.

That alignment would eliminate his availability for a tiebreaker on Oct. 4 and wouldn’t give him enough time to recover for anything more than an appearance out of the bullpen for the wild card. Just as critical, the Jays’ top starter would be wasted against last-place Baltimore, one of the only teams he’s struggled against this year, instead of being available for New York. Ignoring the off-day and using Ray every five days avoids that.

The second priority should be maximizing Berríos in a similar way.

If he pitches on normal rest, Berríos will miss next week’s Rays series, but would be available to pitch the second game in New York. Another benefit is that it would set him up to start any tiebreaker after the final day of the regular season. That’s why he was acquired on July 30, to come through in those spots.

So, this is what the Jays must do to accomplish their goals: Hyun-Jin Ryu and Steven Matz should start Friday’s and Saturday’s games against Minnesota on one extra day’s rest, Berríos should pitch the series finale and Ray should be on the mound for Monday’s matchup in Tampa Bay.

That would push Manoah’s next outing from Sunday against the Twins to Tuesday vs. the Rays. The benefit there is giving Manoah a breather after he tossed a career-high eight innings in his last outing, while also keeping him available for a big series against a first-place team. One of Ryu and Matz would then avoid the Yankees entirely, instead finishing with matchups vs. the Twins and Orioles, which makes sense considering Ryu has a 7.27 ERA since Aug. 8 and Matz is the fifth starter.

“Our starting rotation has been outstanding and that’s one of the reasons we’ve been doing so well, because they’re giving us a chance,” Montoyo said after taking two of three from Tampa Bay. “Manoah was outstanding, eight innings on Friday. Berríos was awesome and then, of course, Ray. That’s the main reason you win in the big leagues, a good starting rotation.”

22 hrs ago

Teams don’t want to get too far ahead of themselves by making plans for the post-season before they clinch, and despite a recent 16-3 stretch the Jays haven’t secured anything. They entered Thursday locked in a three-way tie with the Yankees and Red Sox for the two wild-card spots. However, the path forward is clear.

Ray needs to be kept on schedule to start against Tampa Bay, New York and then be fully rested for the wild card.

Berríos, assuming he’s healthy after leaving his last outing with a minor abdominal issue, must be kept available for the Yankees and a potential tiebreaker.

That’s how you maximize the impact arms, and it’s the direction the Jays should be expected to take.

With a little more than two weeks to play, the rotation is perfectly lined up to make one final push. If they come through, the Jays will be well positioned for the post-season, too.



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