It might not feel that way, but the Yankees and Blue Jays just locked horns two weeks ago. The Yanks swept them handily as part of their six-game winning streak. Things have been a bit tumultuous lately, which leaves that memory further back in our minds.
What Have the Jays Done Lately?
Since dropping all three games to the Yanks two weeks ago, the Blue Jays have been on a mini tear. They went 6-3, including 4-2 against the Red Sox. For that Yankees fans have many thanks. But that’s about all we have. The last thing the Yankees need is to flub a series when the Nos. 2 and 3 teams in the AL East are locking horns.
Jays on Offense
The Jays are in essentially the same position offensively as they were the last time the two sides met. At that point, 12 games ago, they had a 103 wRC+, which ranked fifth in the AL. They currently have a 102 wRC+, which still ranks fifth in the AL — though they’re a bit further behind the Tigers this time, for obvious reasons. They’re also at the same place power-wise, with a .168 ISO. But the Rangers pulled further ahead of them in the past two weeks.
Yes, Jose Bautista still leads the Jays offense. That’s not changing now, or does it figure to change in the near future. Since the Yankees series, in which he went 3 for 11 with three singles, he’s gone 6 for 29 with a double and two homers. That puts him at 42 on the year, three ahead of Curtis Granderson. It does appear that Bautista will walk away with the crown for a second straight year.
Again, not much has changed since the last time the Jays played the Yanks, so it’s more of the same story. Yunel Escobar continues to hit and walk in the leadoff spot, while Brett Lawrie continues to impress. He does have a bruised knee, which he suffered during Wednesday’s game, but with a day off yesterday he could be back tonight. Edwin Encarnacion is the other guy in the lineup who can cause some damage, while Eric Thames has heated up of late.
(Also be on the lookout for Adam Loewen, whom you might remember pitching for the Orioles years ago. He’s reemerged as an outfielder for the Jays, and is 5 for his first 14 with a homer.)
One thing to consider about the Jays offense is that they’re very top heavy. Lawrie has just 149 PA, yet he has the second most runs above average on the team. That’s a counting stat, so he’s managed to outpace everyone but Bautista in what amounts to less than a quarter of a full season. That they continue to bat Adam Lind and his .295 OBP in the middle of the order further illustrates their less than impressive offensive achievements.
Blue Jays on the Mound
There will be no Ricky Romero this series, as he tossed eight innings against the Sox on Wednesday. Here’s how it’ll break down.
Friday: LHP Brett Cecil (vs. CC Sabathia). Remember the days when Cecil killed the Yankees? If not, don’t worry; it wasn’t a long stretch. In 2010 he had a few choice outings against the Yanks, holding them to four runs in 22 IP, covering three starts. In his four starts since then he’s tossed 22.2 innings and allowed 16 runs. When he faced them on September fourth he lasted six innings and threw just 84 pitches, but he allowed two homers and five runs total. The Yanks took that game easily. Last time out he was a degree better, going 7.2 and allowing just two runs, one earned, while striking out nine. But that was against the Orioles. The Yankees have a veritable gauntlet of a lineup against lefties, so tonight should not be so easy for young Cecil.
Update by Mike (3:10pm): The Blue Jays just announced that Cecil has been scratched from tonight’s start. Apparently he cut a finger while cleaning out a blender. Dustin McGowan will start instead.
Saturday: RHP Henderzon Alvarez (vs. Bartolo Colon). On Saturday Alvarez makes his eighth major league start, but his first against the Yankees. We’ve seen the Yankees falter against guys they see for the first time, but that’s just a narrative. It’s not representative of any particular deficiency. That is, it just happens sometimes. Alvarez does have some strengths, his greatest being his low walk rate. In 88 AA innings this year he walked just 1.74 per nine, and in his 43.2 MLB innings he’s walked 1.44 per nine. That, combined with a fair home run rate, has led to quality component ERAs (3.87 FIP, 3.43 xFIP) to go along with his 3.09 ERA. He doesn’t strike out man, though he has induced a good number of ground balls so far. That could play up well against the Yankees. In other words, if they do falter against him it won’t be solely because they haven’t seen him before.
Sunday: RHP Dustin McGowan (vs. Freddy Garcia). On Sunday McGowan made his first start since 2008. It was a long road back from a number of shoulder issues, but he’s finally completed the journey. Unfortunately, his return has not gone so well. The Jays threw him to the wolves in his first overall appearance, which came in relief against the Sox. He allowed three runs in four inning then. Against the Orioles he lasted just three innings while allowing four runs on five walks. The last time he faced the Yankees — June 5th, 2008 — he allowed five runs in 5.1 innings. Of course, only four of the starters from that game are still on the Yankees roster: Jeter, Posada, A-Rod, and Cano. The two players who homered off him, Jason Giambi and Wilson Betemit, are long gone.
Bullpen: The Jays do have a few weapons in their pen, but overall they’re lackluster this year, with a 3.88 ERA and 4.05 FIP. Those might not sound like bad numbers, but they both rank 10th in the American League. Casey Janssen has been the leader, with a 2.02 ERA and 2.39 FIP. Frank Francisco and his 1.32 HR/9 remain in the closer’s role.