Blue Jays – Starting Gausman against an AL East rival to avoid a repeat of an ugly 2023 statistic

The Toronto Blue Jays have started the 2024 campaign with a 1-2 record, winning their Opening Day contest against the Tampa Bay Rays before dropping their last two, with the bats becoming stagnant at the plate. In an attempt to split the series, the Jays will be sending right-hander Kevin Gausman to the mound to try and put Toronto back in the win column before heading off to Houston.

Gausman, the club’s bonafide ace and a Cy Young finalist in 2023, had a late ramp-up in Spring Training due to shoulder soreness and there was a possibility he would not be able to go this weekend. After a 52-pitch outing on Monday against the Pirates, his only spring start, the Jays and Gausman decided he was ready to go and the decision was made he would pitch Sunday against the Rays. Bowden Francis will get the start tomorrow against the Houston Astros.

Last season, one of the biggest Achilles heels of the Blue Jays was their ability to beat divisional opponents, which can have an impact on tiebreaker scenarios for postseason opportunities later down the line. In 2023, the Jays were 21-31 against other AL East teams, posting 6-7 records with Baltimore, Boston, and New York and a paltry 3-10 record against Tampa Bay.

Blue Jays turn to Gausman in the series finale against the Rays

While Toronto didn’t see any consequences to their Wild Card spot last year (although things got dicey near the end), a good example could be seen in the AL West where the Houston Astros and Texas Rangers finished with identical 90-72 records and the Astros claimed first in the division due to a better intradivision record against the Rangers. The outlier of this scenario is the Rangers won the World Series last year, proving that “gain a seat and anything can happen” mentality, but a look further back into history showcases the Los Angeles Dodgers and Colorado Rockies doing battle in a “winner moves on” tiebreaker game in 2018, with the Dodgers winning that do-or-die game and advancing to the World Series (where they lost to the Red Sox) while the Rockies were sent home early.

While that tiebreaker game is no longer in place given the new system, the Jays are no stranger to close finishes. In 2021, the Blue Jays missed the postseason by one game as well (before the tiebreaker rule was a thing), as the Red Sox and Yankees both finished with one more win and ousted the Jays from playoff contention on the last day of the year. The kicker was that the Blue Jays dropped two of three against the Bronx Bombers earlier in the week, which helped propel the team into the postseason.

Moral of the story? Every game matters, especially within the division.

With this in mind, it appears the Jays want to get ahead of the curve from last year and are putting their top arm out to try and right the ship. That’s not to say Francis wouldn’t have been able to get the win, as the right-hander earned his way to a rotation spot after a great Spring Training, but Gausman has a better track record against the Rays (as well as being the club’s top pitcher when healthy) and at the end of the day, you want your best arm out in the bigger situations. As well, Francis will have no easy task against the Astros on Monday, who are projected to take the AL West again this season.

Through 21 career appearances (19 starts), Gausman owns a 3.79 ERA against Tampa while holding the Rays batters to a 1.249 WHIP with a 9.3 K/9. These stats are elevated when he pitched at Tropicana Field (4.04 ERA through 12 outings) but if the Jays are looking to turn things around, Gausman is the go-to arm in this case even with the late spring ramp-up. Considering he will likely throw 70-80 pitches, there is a high chance that fans will see a lot of Mitch White today following the Jays starter. The right-hander is essentially the club’s long man out of the bullpen to start the season and he hasn’t been used yet against the Rays, aligning to follow Gausman if needed.

That will be a big test for the Blue Jays’ top arm out of the gate, whether he can pitch deep enough into the game without using too many pitches on an abbreviated Spring Training. The shoulder soreness Gausman experienced in camp limited him to just one outing this spring but after throwing a side session in Tampa on Friday, it appears all systems are a go for the Blue Jays starter who will hopefully have some offensive help today as well.

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Title: Blue Jays – Starting Gausman against an AL East rival to avoid a repeat of an ugly 2023 statistic
Author: Tyson Shushkewich

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