For the fifth time this year the Yanks and Blue Jays will lock horns. It always seems to be a tough series with them, even though they’re a .500 team. For whatever reason their bats come alive and their pitchers bear down. Despite the Yankees’ 14-game lead over the Jays, they’re just 7-5 against them on the season.
What Have the Jays Done Lately?
This week the Blue Jays took two of three from the Orioles. After losing the first game in extra innings they dropped the O’s 13-0 on Wednday before taking the finale yesterday. Before that they dropped two straight series, losing three of four to the Rays and two of three to the Royals.
Blue Jays on Offense
Despite their flat play overall, the Blue Jays do have a quality offense. Their 103 wRC+ ranks fifth in the AL, behind only the Yankees, Red Sox, Rangers, and Tigers (and the Tigers by just one point). While their team on base average ranks well enough, sixth in the AL, they excel with their power. At a .169 ISO they’re fourth in the AL, just one point behind the Rangers.
It doesn’t take a blogger to tell you that Jose Bautista has led the way all season. His .453 wOBA leads the majors by 20 points and leads the AL by 33. He’s one up on Curtis Granderson for the MLB home run lead and has walked more often than any other player in the league. Against the Yanks this year he’s hit three homers and drawn nine walks in 38 PA. Last year he was absolute menace, too, hitting six homers and walking 19 times in 81 PA.
Behind Bautista the Blue Jays have a trio of excellent hitters. Yunel Escobar has stepped up in his first full season as a Blue Jay, producing a .367 OBP from the leadoff spot. Edwin Encarnacion, too, has stepped up after a tumultuous 2010 season in Toronto. He has produced a .350 wOBA, mostly as the team’s DH. He’s been a pest against the Yankees, going 12 for 40 with four doubles this season. Brett Lawrie has stormed onto the scene since his mid-season call-up, hitting .340/.392/.713, producing 12.9 runs above average despite having just 102 PA. His ISO is actually higher than Bautista’s at the moment.
One player to watch is Kelly Johnson, recently acquired from the Diamondbacks. He’s gone on a tear in his first eight games north of the border. He actually has hit lefties better than righties in his career, despite batting from the left side. Eric Thames has provided some offense as well, a .345 wOBA in 293 PA. Otherwise the Jays are either average or below. So while they do have a core of quality producers, they’re not nearly as deep as other offenses.
Another player to watch is Adam Lind. He started off on fire, producing a 1.017 OPS through his first 198 PA. It looked like a real bounceback season for him, but since then he’s been as cold as they come. Since June 19th he’s come to the plate 274 times and has hit .198/.241/.315. That brings his wOBA down to league average, which is not exactly what the Jays expected. If he continues like this his bounceback season could turn into one as bad as last year, when he hit .237/.287/.425.
Blue Jays on the Mound
While the Jays do have a quality offense, their pitching staff falls short. They rank 11th in the AL with a 4.22 ERA and 4.23 FIP.
Friday: RHP Brandon Morrow vs. Ivan Nova. Morrow has always possessed good stuff, and he seemed to harness it this year. His 10.35 K/9, 3.41 BB/9, and 0.95 HR/9 add up to a 3.38 FIP, but his results have provided a 4.79 ERA. That’s in large part because of his low strand rate, something that should correct itself over time. He’s had a rough go in five of his last seven starts, though he did strike out 11 in seven innings against Texas about a month ago. Since then he’s had just one good outing, and that came against Seattle. Last two times out he allowed 11 runs in 10 innings against the Royals and Rays. Against the Yankees he has a 4.68 ERA in 50 career innings, though he did toss 6.2 innings of one-run ball against them earlier this year.
Saturday: LHP Ricky Romero vs. Bartolo Colon. On Saturday the Yanks run into Toronto’s best starter in Romero. He’s had something of an odd year, putting up peripherals inferior to Morrow, but besting him in ERA by nearly two full runs. His walk rate hasn’t been great, but he’s held opponents to a .245 BABIP, which explains the divide between his FIP and ERA. Still, it has made him one of the more effective starters in the league. In August he threw 44 innings and allowed just 10 runs, a 2.05 ERA. Opponents hit just .160 off him. The Yanks got to him last time out, scoring four times in five innings. Before that he tossed seven-innings of one-run ball, and six innings of two-run ball against them.
Sunday: LHP Brett Cecil vs. Freddy Garcia (probably). Cecil got off to a horrible start, allowing 16 runs in his first four starts, including five in five innings against the Yankees on April 20th. The Blue Jays demoted him after that, and in his first start back, on June 30th, he allowed six runs in 6.1 innings. It all appeared to be going downhill at that point, but Cecil has turned it around to a degree. Since the beginning of July he’s produced a 3.54 ERA in 76.1 innings, striking out 50 to 22 walks. The 11 homers, though, can be a problem. He has, however, allowed nine runs combined in his last two starts. It might seem as though Cecil has owned the Yanks, especially in 2010. But in his 46.2 career innings against them he has a 4.82 ERA.
Bullpen: The Jays do have a decent bullpen, ranking seventh in the AL in ERA and sixth in FIP. Casey Janssen in particular has stepped up, keeping the ball in the park while striking out many and walking few. That’s a perfect combination for any pitcher. Two of their more effective relievers, Marc Rzepczynski and Jason Frasor, are no longer with the team.
It appears that you can get into this series relatively cheaply.