Apr
25

4/25-4/28 Series Preview: Toronto Blue Jays

By
(AP Photo/Gail Burton)

(AP Photo/Gail Burton)

The Blue Jays made all their big offseason moves with an eye on winning the AL East title, and if they’re going to win the division, these are the games they need to win. The Yankees are far from full strength due to injuries and these clubs are scheduled to play ten times through mid-May, which is right about when New York is expected to start getting some of their walking wounded back. If the Jays want to go from pretenders to contenders, these games are borderline must-wins.

What Have They Done Lately?
Well, Toronto is 1-2 so far in those borderline must-win games. The Yankees took two of three up north last weekend, then the Blue Jays lost another two of three to the Orioles in Baltimore this week. The Jays are 9-13 with a -29 run differential overall, and despite yesterday’s win they have lost six or their last nine games.

Offense
Manager John Gibbons’ club is averaging 3.9 runs per game so far, which is a bit below-average. They are closer towards the bottom of the league with a team 89 wRC+ and near the top with 26 homers. The Blue Jays lost a legitimate game-changer in SS Jose Reyes two weeks ago, when he suffered a severe ankle sprain sliding into second base. He had a team-leading 182 wRC+ and five steals in ten games before the injury.

(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)

(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)

The club’s new-look lineup is anchored by two big right-handed bats, RF Jose Bautista (112 wRC+) and 1B Edwin Encarnacion (96 wRC+). They aren’t off to torrid starts, but both guys can hit the ball out of any part of any park in a moment’s notice. Former Yankee LF Melky Cabrera (74 wRC+) is in the middle of the lineup mix as well, ditto the AL homerun leader C J.P. Arencibia (151 wRC+). He’s gone deep eight times … and has a .286 OBP.

Psychopath/3B Brett Lawrie (-3 wRC+) headlines the rest of the lineup, which also features SS Munenori Kawasaki (75 wRC+), CF Colby Rasmus (118 wRC+), DH Adam Lind (110 wRC+), 2B Maicer Izturis (30 wRC+), OF Rajai Davis (93 wRC+), and UTIL Emilio Bonifacio (39 wRC+). UTIL Mark DeRosa (59 wRC+) gives the veteran presents and C Henry Blanco (12 wRC+) is on the roster for one reason and one reason only. We’ll get to that in a bit.

Starting Pitching Matchups

(Brad White/Getty)

(Brad White/Getty)

Thursday: RHP Hiroki Kuroda vs. LHP Mark Buehrle
The Yankees will get yet another opportunity to excise their demons against left-handed pitchers in the series opener tonight. The 34-year-old Buehrle struck out seven in seven innings against New York last weekend, allowing three runs and walking one. He owns a 5.87 ERA (4.36 FIP) through four starts, and as always the peripherals are unimpressive: 6.26 K/9 (15.12 K%), 2.35 BB/9 (5.7 BB%), and 40.2% grounders. His ground ball rate has been heading south for a few years now, but Buehrle is a guy who has outpitched his peripherals his entire career. Can’t really evaluate him like we do everyone else. The long-time White Sox ace uses three different mid-80s fastballs — four-seamer, two-seamer, cutter — and an upper-70s changeup to keep hitters off balance. A low-70s curveball will also make an occasional appearance. The veteran New York lineup and veteran Buehrle have seen plenty of each other over the years. There are no surprises to be had.

Friday: RHP Ivan Nova vs. RHP Josh Johnson
Johnson, 29, is three years removed from his last full season as an ace-caliber pitcher, but he isn’t nearly as bad as this year’s 6.86 ERA and 4.59 FIP indicate. The right-hander is missing a ton of bats (8.69 K/9 and 19.4 K%), but his walk (4.12 BB/9 and 9.2 BB%) and ground ball (41.8%) numbers are far off from the elite marks he posted with the Marlins before Tommy John surgery. Johnson’s four-seamer (and seldom used two-seamer) sits in the 91-95 mph range, and his swing-and-miss mid-80s slider is a wipeout pitch he’ll throw to both righties and lefties. A hard upper-80s splitter-changeup hybrid and upper-70s curveball round out his repertoire. The Yankees have seen Johnson just twice before — they hung four runs on him in 5.1 innings last week, and the other start came way back before elbow reconstruction in 2009.

Saturday: LHP CC Sabathia vs. LHP J.A. Happ
A few weeks ago, Happ went from being the guy the Yankees smacked around in the 2009 World Series to the guy who broke Curtis Granderson‘s forearm with an errant pitch in Spring Training. The 30-year-old southpaw has pitched to a 3.68 ERA (3.83 FIP) in his first four starts of the season, posting solid strikeout (7.77 K/9 and 20.7 K%) and walk (3.68 BB/9 and 9.8 BB%) rates to go along with extreme fly ball tendencies (35.5% grounders). Happ uses two- and four-seam fastballs that sit right around 90 mph to set up his low-80s changeup, his primary offspeed pitch. Low-80s sliders and upper-70s curves are his clear fourth and fifth pitches. The Yankees saw Happ twice last summer after was traded to Toronto, and they roughed him up both times.

(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)

(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)

Sunday: RHP Phil Hughes vs. RHP R.A. Dickey
Dickey, 38, has yet to really get it going this season — 4.66 ERA and 4.26 FIP in five starts — after winning the NL Cy Young Award last year. He struggled last April as well — 4.45 ERA and 5.24 FIP in five starts — so I’m guessing he’ll figure out it and start dominating before long. Dickey is a feel pitcher after all, and the cold early-season months are conducive to, well, a lack of feel. His strikeout (7.45 K/9 and 19.1 K%) rate is fine but the walk (4.34 BB/9 and 11.1 BB%) and ground ball (41.4%) totals leave a lot to be desired at the moment.

Dickey’s trademark knuckleball is actually two knuckleballs — he throws a hard 76-81 mph knuckleball as a put-away pitch when ahead in the count and a softer 68-76 mph knuckleball almost like a get-me-over pitch when behind in the count. I highly recommend this 2010 Amazin’ Avenue post for more on the duel-knuckleball phenomenon. Dickey throws his knuckleball(s) roughly 90% of the time with the other 10% being filled by low-80s fastballs. He doesn’t have a UCL in his elbow, you know. The Yankees did not see Dickey last weekend but they faced him three times from 2011-2012 during the Subway Series. There’s really not much preparation you can do for a knuckleball, it’s the epitome of a see it and hit it pitch. Oh, remember when I said Blanco was on the team for one reason? Well, this is it. Here’s there to catch the knuckleball.

(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)

(Rob Carr/Getty)

Bullpen Status
The Orioles did the Yankees a favor and forced the Blue Jays to play eleven innings yesterday, so Toronto’s bullpen is a little taxed coming into the series. Setup men LHP Darren Oliver (3.24 FIP) and RHP Esmil Rogers (2.77 FIP) both pitched yesterday, as did closer RHP Casey Janssen (0.27 FIP). Oliver threw two innings, the other two guys one each. LHP Aaron Loup (3.39 FIP) is the middle innings lefty and he’s pitched in each of the last two games.

Gibbons has two other lefties at his disposal, including one-time Yankees nemesis LHP Brett Cecil (3.02 FIP). He’s no longer a starter though, just a traditional middle reliever who will face both righties and lefties. Former Yankee LHP Aaron Laffey (4.62 FIP) was claimed off waivers from the Mets a few days ago and has yet to appear in a game for the Jays this season. He started on Saturday for the Amazin’s and should be ready to pitch by now. RHP Steve Delabar (2.86 FIP) rounds out the bullpen. The Yankees are in pretty good bullpen shape, but check out the Bullpen Workload page for exact usage details anyway. My preferred Blue Jays blogs are Drunk Jays Fans and Tao of Stieb.

Categories : Series Preview
  • trr

    Great preview.
    I think the offense will snap back to life in the Bronx.
    The Jays have been somewhat exposed so far, to say the least.
    Let’s win 3/4 this series!
    What say you all!

    • nsalem

      “The Jays have been somewhat exposed so far, to say the least.”

      Where is Big Member when we need him???

      • trr

        Salem, is there an issue here?

        • nsalem

          No issues, just a weak stab at being humorous. I will not comment on the Jays bullpen will blow if for Dickey below. However I am hoping for a 4 game sweep.

        • Robinson Tilapia

          Probably not, but if something needs EXPOSING, you need Big Member on the case. He’ll get to the bottom of things.

          • Nsalem

            And sometimes on top of things.

            /luckypierre’d

            • trr

              ah, I get it – cognizance fail on my part, sorry!
              But enough about my parts…Everyone always talks about
              Big Member, but I don’t recall ever seeing any posts by him

              • jjyank

                I guess you weren’t here during his heyday during the early offseason/last season. He had some really epic posts.

                • vicki

                  he wanted to trade hughes for brennan borscht, who knows what it’s like not to choke in the playoffs.

                • trr

                  No, I came aboard at the start of S/T.
                  Sorry I missed him!

  • RobA

    Well, for us as Jays fans, this series seems abkut as “must win” as there is in April. Not mathematically of course, but for our psyches and emotional well being. We had a huge emotional win yesterday that saw Rajai Davis nail the winning run at the plate in the bottom of the 10th then win it in the 11th. Hoping we can build on some momentum there. Taking 3 of 4 will go a very long way towards putting us on the right track.

    Obviousoy, most of you here probably differ with me on the likelihood of that happening, but with your bats going cold suddenly (yes, I understand TB has top notch pitching….but it doesnt matter whor youre facing, 5runs in 3 games is bad) and Hughes/Nova not exactly world beaters so far, I think 3 of 4 is realistic, although I wouldnt call it likely per se. A split would be acceptable, but not anything less then that. If I had to make a predicition, Id expect you guys to win tonight against a tough Kuroda, and I expect to win the ganes vs. Nova and Hughes. JJ hasnt put it together yet, but hes still JJ, and I think he will be elite over the course of 2013. Ive seen him pitch a few games live already and hes stilll got it. Dickey had a rough start, but seems to be coming around. Over his last 3 starts, Hes gone 18.1 IP with a 2.45 ERA, with 15 K’s and held opppnents to a .571 OPS. Also, that includes a game vs. the White Sox where he came out in the 6th with something like 61 pitches thrown due to back tightness (precautionary). That game had CG shutout writte all over it. Plus, hes a reignng Cy Young winner. I think he should be expected to win every time ye goes out there.

    The Sabathhia/Happ game will likely be (in my scenario) the swing game that could go either way. Both Happ and Sabathia have similar numbers this year, and without his mid 90’s heat, hes a different pitcher. Still Sabathia though so its tough to bet against him.

    Should be an entertainint early season series.

  • RobA

    Well, for us as Jays fans, this series seems abkut as “must win” as there is in April. Not mathematically of course, but for our psyches and emotional well being. We had a huge emotional win yesterday that saw Rajai Davis nail the winning run at the plate in the bottom of the 10th then win it in the 11th. Hoping we can build on some momentum there. Taking 3 of 4 will go a very long way towards putting us on the right track.

    Obviousoy, most of you here probably differ with me on the likelihood of that happening, but with your bats going cold suddenly (yes, I understand TB has top notch pitching….but it doesnt matter whor youre facing, 5runs in 3 games is bad) and Hughes/Nova not exactly world beaters so far, I think 3 of 4 is realistic, although I wouldnt call it likely per se. A split would be acceptable, but not anything less then that. If I had to make a predicition, Id expect you guys to win tonight against a tough Kuroda, and I expect to win the ganes vs. Nova and Hughes. JJ hasnt put it together yet, but hes still JJ, and I think he will be elite over the course of 2013. Ive seen him pitch a few games live already and hes stilll got it. Dickey had a rough start, but seems to be coming around. Over his last 3 starts, Hes gone 18.1 IP with a 2.45 ERA, with 15 K’s and held opppnents to a .571 OPS. Also, that includes a game vs. the White Sox where he came out in the 6th with something like 61 pitches thrown due to back tightness (precautionary). That game had CG shutout writte all over it. Plus, hes a reignng Cy Young winner. I think he should be expected to win every time ye goes out there.

    The Sabathhia/Happ game will likely be (in my scenario) the swing game that could go either way. Both Happ and Sabathia have similar numbers this year, and without his mid 90’s heat, hes a different pitcher. Still Sabathia though so its tough to bet against him.

    Should be an entertainint early season series.j

    • Deathstroke Heathcott

      This may come back to haunt me but JJ doesn’t scare me, regardless of his name. I do think Dickey is starting to put it together but so is Hughes.

  • RobA

    shit, sry for double post. And excuse typos, Im on my phone and have fat thumbs.

    • Robinson Tilapia

      What’s with that Pizza Pizza stuff anyway? Had someone order it up in Toronto once. That’s not pizza.

      I don’t think the Yankee bats went cold as much as you never, ever bet against Tampa pitching and the Trop is just some sort of demon place.

      I say anything from a split to Yanks taking 3 of 4. I say Johnson beats Nova and your bullpen blows it for Dickey.

    • Robinson Tilapia

      Also, our folks never apologize for bad spelling. You Jays fans are certainly polite! :)

    • nsalem

      No problem, just thought you were French. Do you need a passport to post in the USA.

  • Andy E

    whats with the psychopath/lawrie thing?

    • Kramerica Industries

      Thrown helmets at umps, his reactions last Sunday, among other things…

      dude is fucking insane.

    • pat
    • vicki

      i object to the modifier. some of my best friends are psychopaths. lawrie is just an idiot redneck douche.

      • Andy E

        and i object to your modifier because most of my friends are idiot redneck douches, please stop comparing them to brett lawrie

        • vicki

          fair enough. i’m sure we can at least stipulate his singular ickiness.

  • John C

    Would expect Lawrie to get razzed byt the crowd tonight for that. Wouldn’t feel bad if he gets a little ching music either.

  • Eddard

    They should take 3/4 in the series. People think the schedule is going to get tougher. It’s going to get easier. The Jays at home and then the hapless Astros. This ain’t the Rays pitching staff, these guys can be hit as they proved in Toronto. As long as Joe remembers to take Nova out in the 5th inning they should be able to take 3/4.

    • Rolling Doughnut

      About right but maybe a bit overoptimistic. Cobb ain’t exactly lights out (the baseball sages can quote the sabermetrics–by any measure, he’s not a 2 hit in 8.1 IP kinda guy) and he carved up our..for lack of a better word…lineup with no trouble. OK, OK we don’t win at the fuckin Trop and we have trouble with the Cobbs of the league but still the hot bats v. RHP may just be a nice SSS quirk (do you see Wells maintaining these numbers?.296/.367/.563?) and although the team has outperformed expectations, the recent play may indicate a regression to the mean, which would be .500 ball– until the regs get back. Hope I’m wrong.

  • nsalem

    I remember Josh Johnson start against the Yankee’s back in 2009. He seemed to be dominating in a “CobbLike Fashion”. The game was on a Saturday night I think and for some reason that’s all I remember about the gameand evening. Sure hope Hafner is the DH tonight against Buehrle tonight. He hasn’t dominated him but does have an .801 OPS in over 80 PA’s

    /DFABF

  • Guns

    Ben Francisco batting 2nd

    • Dalek Jeter

      Why?!?!?!

      Hafner’s numbers off Buehrle: .246/.366/.435

      Francisco’s numbers off Buehrle: .231/.267/.231

      • Dalek Jeter

        Lifetime numbers vs LHP:
        Hafner: wOBA .352 wRC+ 117
        Francisco: wOBA .320 wRC+ 96

      • FEED.ME.MORE!

        The Binder shits on your fact-based suggestions!

      • Rolling Doughnut

        Beats me. And everyone else except Girardi I guess.

    • vicki

      and no youk again.

      mother of christ.

  • TomH

    All the local Jays’ fans I know are rarin’ to go, very confident that the team has turned around and that the Yankee Empire is ready to fall. I haven’t seen them so obnoxious in 20 years.

  • RobA

    I gotta say guys, that lineup of yours thats just, uh…..thats just terrible.

    Ours is crap too but at least its crap because we have some underperforming good hitters (Bautista, EE, Lawrie, Melky) that can bust out at anytimr. I dont see that in what your running out there tonight

    • Rassel

      Nice take, clown. Beat you fools again, eh!

  • Wheels

    If you missed that Jeter press conference, you missed absolutely nothing.