Series Preview: Toronto Blue Jays

The lost art of the come-from-behind victory
The Jerry Blevins Option
(AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Remember last year, when the Yankees and Blue Jays didn’t play each other until the first week of June? No such luck this season, this mid-week three-game series will already be their third meet-up of 2011. These two clubs split a two-game set north of the border in mid-April before the Yankees took two of three in New York late in the month.

What Have The Blue Jays Done Lately?

After winning six games in a row two weeks ago, the Jays have alternated wins and losses since Wednesday. The Astros (!!!) took two of three from them in Toronto over the weekend, and they come into this series right at .500 with a 23-23 record. The Jays do have a +11 run differential though, so they should probably be 24-22 or something like that.

Blue Jays On Offense

(AP Photo/Jim Mone)

There really is nothing you can do to stop Jose Bautista, and containing him is pretty much a fruitless endeavor as well. The best player in baseball has just three hits (two of which have left the yard, of course) and two walks in his last 17 plate appearances, but he’s still hitting .353/.500/.816 on the season. Joey Bats kills the Yankees, so just accept it. He’s going to hit a homer or four during these three games, there’s nothing the Yankees can do. He’s that good. Luckily, Bautista is basically the entire Blue Jays’ offense.

Adam Lind is on the shelf with a back problem, so just one other Toronto regular has an OPS north of .800. That’s catcher J.P. Arencibia, who does it with power (.276 ISO) and not by getting on base (.309 OBP). Yunel Escobar is sporting a fine .283/.363/.410 line, but the rest of the lineup … sheesh. You’ve got the likes of Corey Patterson (.271/.307/.431), impromptu cleanup hitter Aaron Hill (.241/.283/.319), Juan Rivera (.225/.315/.331), Rajai Davis (.252/.298/.327), Edwin Encarnacion (.244/.270/.336), and so on. Bautista and Yunel are really the only two Jays’ coming into the series hot as well.

One thing Toronto will do is run. They’re third in the league in stolen bases (46) and will run at will, in any count with pretty much anyone at the plate or on the bases. Davis is by far the biggest threat with a dozen steals, but Hill, Patterson, and Bautista will go as well. The best way to shut the Jays’ down offensively is the old Michael Jordan defense; let Bautista hit his homers but stop everyone else, especially the guys hitting in front of him.

Blue Jays On The Mound

Monday, RHP Carlos Villaneuva: Starting in place of the injured Jesse Litsch (shoulder impingement), Villanueva is being pulled out of the bullpen to make his first start since 2009. He’s had long relief appearances of 42, 51, and 69 pitches already this season, so he’s probably good for 80 or so pitches tonight. Villanueva’s career numbers as a starter really don’t tell us much of anything since they came so long ago and in the other league, but out of the bullpen this year he’s struck out 7.77 men per nine while walking 3.70 per nine and getting a ground ball 39.3% of the time. Those are almost identical to his career totals (8.05 K/9, 3.22 BB/9, 40.4%), so he is who we thought he was. The former Brewer throws a lot of offspeed stuff, using his upper-80’s fastball just under 40% of the time. A low-80’s changeup is his favorite secondary pitch at a little over 25% of all pitches, though he’ll also throw a low-80’s slider more than 20% of the time as well. A low-70’s curveball fills out the rest of the pie. The Yankees have seen him twice this year, a one inning relief appearance in each of the first two series, so Villanueva shouldn’t be a total surprise.

(AP Photo/Kathy Kmonicek)

Tuesday, LHP Ricky Romero: Romero has a case to be the best pitcher in baseball that no one talks about. He’s young (turned 26 in December), left-handed, and in possession of gaudy peripherals (8.84 K/9, 3.10 BB/9, 55.8% grounders), and yet “Ricky Romero underrated” returns far fewer Google results (52,200) than “Ivan Nova underrated” (308,000). If Ricky pitched for the Yankees, he’d be a national hero. He held the pinstripers to two runs over six innings earlier this year, just one of his seven starts of six-plus innings and two earned runs or less. Romero throws two fastballs 34.7% of the time each, a four-seamer that averages 92.3 mph and a two-seamer at 91.5 mph. A mid-80’s changeup is his go-to offspeed offering, though he’ll also break out an upper-70’s curveball on occasion. One thing he does not do is pitch backwards; four out of every five at-bats start with a fastball, and he’ll changeup hitters to death when ahead in the count. The Yankees have seen plenty of him over the last two years and two months, but Romero’s so good that it doesn’t even matter.

Wednesday, LHP Jo-Jo Reyes: Uh oh, a young lefty the Yankees haven’t seen before. Reyes, who came over in the Yunel trade, has been surprisingly effectively for the Jays even though his ERA (4.08) doesn’t really agree. His 3.36 FIP is propped up by strong walk (2.40 BB/9) and homerun rates (0.55 HR/9) and not necessary the whiff numbers (6.84 K/9), but there is still some funny business going on here. Reyes has a .354 BABIP despite a mediocre 35.8% ground ball rate, which is backwards. More fly balls should equal a lower BABIP, so that and the strand rate (64.2%) are why his ERA isn’t as good as it maybe should be. Jo-Jo is similar to Romero in that he’s heavy on the low-90’s four and two-seamers with the occasional changeup, but he’ll also throw a slider semi-regularly. He’s on a bit of a roll now, allowing just eight earned runs (but seven unearned) in his last 28.1 IP across five starts. Like I said, the Yankees have never faced him before, but he isn’t going to miss a ton of bats and will allow them to put the ball in the air. I’ll take it.

Bullpen: Toronto’s bullpen comes into the series pretty well rested. Casey Janssen is the only guy to pitch both Saturday and Sunday, and both Jon Rauch and Shawn Camp have appeared in two of the last three games. Octavio Dotel and Jason Frasor are fresh, ditto struggling closer Frank Francisco, who blew a tied game on Friday and has allowed six runs and six walks in his last six innings. Marc Rzepczynski is the lefty killer (.143/.250/.143 against) that also gets out righties (.219/.265/.344). He’s not just a specialist.

The toughest thing about the Jays’ bullpen is all the different looks they have. Camp is fastball-changeup, Janssen fastball-cutter, Dotel fastball-slider, Rauch fastball-slider-changeup, Francisco fastball-splitter, and Frasor almost all fastballs. It’s a sneaky good bullpen crew equipped to do whatever manager John Farrell needs.

Recommended Blue Jays Reading: Drunk Jays Fans, Ghostrunner on First, and Tao of Stieb.

The lost art of the come-from-behind victory
The Jerry Blevins Option
  • A-Rod’s Wingman

    So…pitch around Joey Bats?

    • first time lawng time

      Plunk him. Right in the knee.

      Don’t make him comfortable.

  • first time lawng time

    Any chance today’s game is rained out? Weather’s been pretty bad today.

  • Rookie

    There’s a lot of concern and statistical thought in baseball about not increasing a young pitcher’s total innings pitched too much from year to year. Is there any such thought for a veteran, like Colon, coming back from injury where he used to routinely pitch 200+ innings, but hasn’t come anywhere close to that number of innings pitched for awhile now?

    • Ted Nelson

      One thing to look at would be guys who miss a season with TJS or another injury. How are they treated and how do they respond. A bit tough to analyze since a lot of guys miss parts of two seasons rather than one full season.

      There’s not all the same long-term concerns from the team’s perspective for a guy like Colon, who is both a free agent after the season and old enough that he could be done at any moment regardless of how the Yankees treat him. So I’d guess the Yankees would be more likely to push him than a younger guy in a similar situation, especially one with multiple years under team control. I wouldn’t advocate being reckless, just might push him more without many long-term concerns to think about.

      Colon also pitched in DWL, so he may hit any wall that exists faster than his MLB innings indicate.

      • Rookie

        I think everything you say makes sense, Ted.

        And until the reinforcements start arriving, maybe the Yankees don’t really have a choice. But it would be a shame if our team has a weapon like Colon who could go a long way in improving their chances in the post season and they destroy it thoughtlessly by overuse.

        By the way, I don’t think it’s entirely thoughtlessly, though — given that the Yankees chose to use Colon as the long reliever despite the fact that he so obviously won the competition for fifth starter.

  • Monteroisdinero

    Did we face Reyes in ST? Seems familiar and we didn’t do much with him but I could be confusing him with another lefty.

  • Xstar7

    I like the Michael Jordan reference.

  • T-Dubs

    Here’s my elaborate plan for facing Joey Bats:

  • a.hinds

    i just assume that the writers at this site just know more than me, so here’s a question for ya, barry bonds was intentionally walked over one hundred times in 06, why dont people just walk bautista?

    • Anchen

      I’d guess mainly cause Bautista doesn’t have that pedigree yet, and people didn’t intentionally walk Barry that many times until after a season he hit 73 HRs. People assumed Bautista had a fluky season last year and that his run couldn’t last. So far…they are incorrect. Up to last year his best OPS in six or so years was .757. And compared to even last year’s fine performance his .353/.500/.816/1.31 slash line this year is basically absurd.

    • Xstar7

      Barry Bonds >>>>>>>>>> Jose Bautista.

      • CMP

        If you look at Bonds stats, the only guy better than him is Babe Ruth.

        • Xstar7

          Exactly. And that’s extremely rare company.

    • Ted Nelson

      Bautista’s BB% is a career high 22%, so that is happening a bit. On his career he has walked 12.4%, and last season it was 14.6%. Bonds did have a couple of 30+% BB% seasons, but he also had plenty in the 20%s. Not necessarily IBBs (he only has 4), but you can give a hitter nothing to hit and hope he chases without intentionally walking him (not that it’s necessarily working out that well).

  • CMP

    Bautista shouldn’t get a good pitch to hit the whole series. I’d be happy with O for 0 with 12 BBs.

    At this point, you have to treat him like Barry Bonds II.

  • Don Juan

    We should not pitch to Bautista just like we should not pitch to Longoria, Michael Young, Konerko, Miguel Cabrera but we always do and we always get burned.

    I’m just glad Dickerson is back in RF tonight. Give the kid a shot and see if he can take over in right or if we need to go out and get a right fielder at the deadline.

    • Mike Axisa

      Chris Dickerson is no kid.

      • Pat D

        Nor is he an everyday player.

      • CMP

        Don Juan was born in the 1600s so compared to him, Dickerson does seem like a kid.

    • Ted Nelson

      So just don’t pitch to the best hitter on any team in any situation?

      • CMP

        How about never pitch to him in a situation where he can tie the game or give his team the lead?

  • Oliver

    I believe Reyes is working on a streak of 20-something consecutive starts without a win dating back to 2008.

  • Pat D

    Apparently going 5-1 at home against three mediocre or worse teams has you jump in ESPN’s Power Rankings from #16 to #3.

    • CMP

      That sounds about the right considering the level of intelligence and logic over at ESPN.