The Tampa Bay Rays’ 2020 season opens Friday night at home at Tropicana Field, and the postseason hopefuls aren’t devaluing the shortened campaign that lies ahead.
The club begins its 60-game regular-season sprint with an Opening Day contest against the Toronto Blue Jays in the first of a three-game series.
The Rays are among the top five American League squads expected to be the favorites to capture the junior circuit’s pennant, joining the AL East rival New York Yankees, Houston Astros, Minnesota Twins and Cleveland Indians, according to Bovada’s betting lines.
The Rays say that clinching the pennant and advancing to the Fall Classic for the second time in team history wouldn’t be cheapened because of the shortest regular season ever in the majors.
“The World Series is the World Series,” infielder Brandon Lowe said. “Some people are going to look at it that it was only a 60-game season. But it’s only a 60-game season against the best players in the world.”
The Rays will send out right-hander Charlie Morton, who went 16-6 with a 3.05 ERA in 33 starts during a 2019 All-Star season. He will be making his first Opening Day start.
“It does mean a lot. It’s one of those things that you would like to experience at least one time,” said Morton, who was 8-3 with a 2.59 ERA in 17 starts at home last year.
Entering the final year of a two-year, $30 million contract with Tampa Bay — the Rays also hold a 2021 option — Morton was 0-1 with a 3.06 ERA in three starts against Toronto last season.
During his 12-year career, the 36-year-old New Jersey native has made six appearances — all starts – against the Blue Jays and sports a 2-1 mark with a 2.39 ERA.
Tampa Bay will be without All-Star outfielder Austin Meadows (coronavirus). The lefty-batting leadoff hitter led the club with a team-high .960 on-base-plus-slugging-percentage and 24 home runs against right-handed pitching in 2019.
Also, lefty reliever Colin Poche will have Tommy John surgery and is expected to miss this season and most of 2021.
Meanwhile, the Blue Jays are a club without a home and can expect that feeling of being visitors all season long.
The Canadian government ruled they cannot play their home games in Ontario due to strict quarantine laws, and Wednesday the Pennsylvania Department of Health denied the Blue Jays’ request to play home games at Pittsburgh’s PNC Park.
Multiple reports Thursday said the Baltimore Orioles have approved the Jays to share their stadium at Camden Yards, although Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan still must sign off. Buffalo, home to Toronto’s Triple-A affiliate Bisons, could be a backup option. The Jays’ home opener is July 29 against the Washington Nationals.
Left-hander Hyun-Jin Ryu will make his first career appearance against Tampa Bay when he makes his first start for his new team on Friday.
Ryu, 33, won the 2019 National League ERA title (2.32) while going 14-5 in 29 starts his sixth and final season for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Toronto signed the South Korean hurler to a four-year, $80 million contract in December.
“Obviously, you play half of the season at home. So there is definitely some sort of comfort level you develop over time,” said Ryu, a 2019 NL All-Star. “But, honestly, right now the situation itself, we just have to deal with it as players. And one of our jobs is to adapt to new types of situations.”
–Field Level Media