Toronto-Tampa Bay: The Rays and Jays Love-Hate Relationship

Jeffrey RobertsCorrespondent IJuly 1, 2009

NEW YORK - JUNE 19:  B.J. Upton #2 of the Tampa Bay Rays bats against the New York Mets on June 19, 2009 at Citi Field in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

If stingrays had lips, they would be licking them right now.

No team has stumped the Toronto Blue Jays more often than the Tampa Bay Rays. Even when the Rays were terrible, they would still manage to put the kibosh on a Blue Jays win streak.

Tampa has won twice against Toronto this year and are aiming to sweep the Jays on Canada Day.

John A. MacDonald must be rolling over in his grave. John McDonald must be rolling over pitches into double plays.

It's baffling. Over the last three years Toronto is 16-22 against the Rays. In a division that punishes losses like Frank Castle, it's painful to watch.

Toronto has only hit .203 against Tampa this year. They hit .237 last year with a mediocre .688 OPS. The Rays pitching has left Toronto teetering towards the Mendoza line.

What stings worse is that the Jays are pitching very well against the Rays. In 2008, the Jays went 7-11 against Tampa, but posted a 3.26 ERA. This year the record is 0-2 but the ERA is still a manageable 4.00.

The pitching staff is keeping these games close, but the offence has disappeared into the Bermuda Triangle.

By comparison, the Rays are hitting .279 against Toronto this season, but last season that number stood at only .240.

The Rays pitching staff is keeping a 1.00 ERA against Toronto this season, with a 3.37 ERA last year.

The biggest difference between the two teams is still in the win column.

Toronto and Tampa are engaging in some good, hard-fought, baseball. Neither side is giving anything easy to the other, but the Rays are just finding more ways to come out on top.

Part of that is the constant pressure the Rays provide with their baserunning. Every time Carl Crawford reaches first, catchers start to sweat. Pitchers are forced to devote precious attention to holding the runner.

In the first game of the series, Roy Halladay allowed B.J. Upton's presence on base to distract him long enough for Crawford to nail a pitch into the outfield seats. Even though it was only two runs, the Jays were unable to bounce back. Losing focus for a second in this series could be all the other team needs.

Tampa Bay stole more bases (15) against Toronto than anyone else in baseball last season. This year they've taken off six times, getting caught three times. Even though Toronto is managing the situation better, it's just another thing that drags on player's minds. 

Toronto has also issued 11 walks to Tampa batters this season. Again, it's just another issue that distracts teams from winning games. You can't have a team that runs like Tampa being issued a license to steal. The Rays have minimized their mistakes and only allowed the Jays six walks so far.

It all comes down to the little things; do them and you will succeed. It may be cliche but it's been true.

In the AL East where the perennial juggernauts of Boston and New York reside, Toronto and Tampa are forced to squabble amongst themselves.

Both are trying to carve out wins desperately. It's just that Tampa has been more successful. A win by either team against the other is a perfect way to position themselves for a run up the standings.

Major League Baseball should take note. There may be more storied rivalries, but none are being as closely fought as Tampa Bay-Toronto.

In honour of Confederation, it's time for Toronto to start paying Tampa back for so many years of hardship. Getting swept by the Rays puts the Jays on the edge of collapse. Baltimore is getting lonely and needs a friend down at the bottom of the AL East.

Hopefully Toronto has enough friends.


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