4/4-4/6 Series Preview: Toronto Blue Jays

Mailbag: Nationals, Betances, Rotation, Trout
King: Nationals not interested in Murphy or Romine
(Photo Credit: Flickr user kyle.tucker95 via Creative Commons license)
(Photo Credit: Flickr user kyle.tucker95 via Creative Commons license)

the series against the Astros did not go according to plan, but this weekend’s series against the Blue Jays in Toronto figures to be much more exciting. Not only are the Yankees playing a division rival for the first time in 2014, but we’re going to get our first regular season look at both Masahiro Tanaka and Michael Pineda as well. To say those two are important to the future of the franchise would be a massive understatement.

What Have They Done Lately?
Toronto opened their season with a four-game series against the Rays, which they split down in Tampa. As you know, they were a huge disappointment last season, finishing 74-88 with a -44 run differential. Tonight is their home opener.

Offense
On paper, few teams can match the powerful lineup the Jays trot out there each day. They only scored eleven runs in the four games against Tampa Bay, but don’t let that fool you. They had a team 99 wRC+ and averaged 4.40 runs per game last season despite all their injuries, and they are returning almost all the same personnel. Toronto will be without Jose Reyes (114 wRC+ in 2013) this weekend. He’s on the DL with another hamstring problem.

(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)

Manager John Gibbons has two elite right-handed power bats in his lineup. OF Jose Bautista (134 wRC+ in 2013/264 wRC+ in 2014) has been tearing the cover off the ball since the start of Spring Training, so he looks to be all the way back from his 2012 wrist surgery. 1B Edwin Encarnacion (145/-31) is a monster. Maybe the most underappreciated great hitter in baseball. I’m going to point out his 2013 stats again: 82 walks, 66 extra-base hits, 62 strikeouts. Pujolsian. DH Adam Lind (132/321) and OF Colby Rasmus (130/24) balance the lineup with some lefty pop.

With Reyes out, former Yankee OF Melky Cabrera (87/90) has been leading off while fellow former Yankee C Dioner Navarro (13/-4) bats fifth. 3B Brett Lawrie (94/-15) is still a maniac, and IF Ryan Goins (62/-100) and IF Maicer Izturis (63/285) have been splitting time at second base early on. SS Jonathan Diaz (-100/66) was called up to replace Reyes. OF Moises Sierra (125/-100) joins backups C Josh Thole (37/190) and C Erik Kratz (78/645). Yes, they’re carrying three catchers. Thole is R.A. Dickey’s personal catcher and I guess they want to keep Kratz around as well. Whatever. Remember, the wRC+ numbers for 2014 are tiny, tiny samples.

Pitching Matchups

Friday: RHP Masahiro Tanaka vs. RHP Dustin McGowan (Career vs. NYY) (Pitcher GIFs)
It has now been seven years since the 32-year-old McGowan put together that promising 2.3 bWAR season in 2007. Arm injuries have completely derailed his career, limiting him to only 205.1 total innings since that breakout year. He pitched to a 2.45 ERA (3.67 FIP) in 25.2 relief innings with strong peripherals — 9.12 K/9 (22.8 K%), 4.21 BB/9 (10.5 BB%), and 46.6% grounders — during his return to the mound late last year, and this spring he managed to win a rotation spot. Even after all the injuries, McGowan sat in the mid-90s with his fastball in 2014, though I would think he’ll lose a little with the move into the rotation. A mid-80s slider and mid-80s changeup are his two secondary pitches. Given all the time he’s missed, it’s tough to know what to expect out of McGowan as a starter. I’m not sure how much help previous experience against him will be for the team’s hitters.

(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)
(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)

Saturday: RHP Michael Pineda vs. RHP R.A. Dickey (Career vs. NYY) (Pitcher GIFs)
Dickey, 39, had a solid but disappointing debut season with Toronto. Disappointing because he was the reigning NL Cy Young award winner. He threw 224.2 innings of 4.21 ERA (4.58 FIP) ball, with a good walk rate (2.84 BB/9 and 7.5 BB%) but mediocre strikeout (7.09 K/9 and 18.8 K%) and ground ball (40.3%) numbers. Lefties (.339 wOBA) hit him quite a bit harder than righties (.298 wOBA). Dickey is a knuckleballer as you know, though he apparently dropped the harder low-80s version he threw with the Mets, sticking with the softer mid-70s version exclusively. He throws the knuckler roughly nine out of every ten pitches. His show-me fastball hums in right around 80 mph. The Rays roughed Dickey up on Opening Day, scoring six runs on five hits and six walks (four strikeouts).

Sunday: LHP CC Sabathia vs. RHP Drew Hutchinson (Career vs. NYY) (Pitcher GIFs)
McGowan is the not the only guy in the rotation coming back from major injury. Hutchison, 23, made eleven mostly ineffective starts in 2012 (4.60 ERA and 4.48 FIP) before blowing out his elbow and needing Tommy John surgery. His strikeout (7.52 K/9 and 19.1 K%), walk (3.07 BB/9 and 7.8 BB%), and ground ball (44.6%) rates were alright before the injury. Hutchison did not pitch in the big leagues at all last season and he only threw 35.1 rehab innings in the minors. And yet, he won a rotation spot in camp. A low-90s fastball is his bread and butter and he throws it a ton, more than 70% of the time. Mid-80s sliders and changeups round out the repertoire. As with McGowan, it’s unclear what Hutchison brings to the table post surgery.

Loup. (Al Messerschmidt/Getty)
Loup. (Al Messerschmidt/Getty)

Bullpen Status
The Blue Jays are without closer RHP Casey Janssen (2.74 FIP in 2013), who is nursing a shoulder problem. RHP Sergio Santos (1.84 FIP in 2013/2.96 FIP in 2014) and LHP Brett Cecil (2.88/-3.04) are in a closer platoon for the time being. RHP Steve Delabar (2.72/2.96) handles most setup situations.

RHP Esmil Rogers (4.73/7.87) and RHP Jeremy Jeffress (3.43/7.68) both pitched yesterday and threw quite a bit of pitches (41 and 29, respectively), so they’re probably unavailable for tonight’s game. LHP Aaron Loup (3.32/1.76) is a really good middle innings lefty specialist. RHP Todd Redmond (4.40 FIP in 2013) is the long man and he has not yet appeared in a game this season.

The Yankees used all of their relievers in the series against the Astros — only Shawn Kelley pitches twice — so everyone has gotten into a game and no one has been sitting around for a week waiting to a pitch. Check out our Bullpen Workload page for all the specific reliever usage details. For the latest and greatest on the Blue Jays, I recommend Drunk Jays Fans.

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Mailbag: Nationals, Betances, Rotation, Trout
King: Nationals not interested in Murphy or Romine
  • Yangeddard Solarte

    Tanaka is going to impress tonight and get a W. Dickey will flummox us again on Saturday and they’ll get the L. They’ll have to win an offensive battle on Sunday with CC on the mound. Mike said they could have 4 or 5 wins in the bank before getting back to YS, they’ll be lucky to split 3-3.

  • JGYank

    The bullpen workload thing is great. Should be useful.

    I’m afraid of their lineup and they have some good relievers but without Reyes and Janssen they’re weaker than usual. Their pitching just isn’t good so we should be able to score. Could have some high scoring games this series. I think we can win 2/3.

    Watching tanaka tonight is going to be a blast. We’ve all been waiting for this when he signed. Why can’t it be 7 already!?

  • Rob S.

    The key to the Blue Jays is too avoid a lot of base runners. They have a lot of pop but solo home runs don’t usually kill you. The Yankees have gotten to Dickey a few times the last couple of years so I’m not too worried about facing him.

    • ALZ

      And with Reyes down that shuts down their running game. If you can survive EE and Bautista the rest of the lineup doesn’t scare me one bit.

  • The Other Matt

    Insightful for Mike to point out Encarnacion and just how dangerous he is. I feel, too, that he, along with Matt Carpenter, is one of the most underrated hitters in all of baseball. Obviously, they have vastly different skill sets. The only thing I hate about Encarnacion is that chicken wing arm that he has the whole time he rounds the bases on home runs. Probably due to the fact I’ve seen it so much, since he hits his fair share of homers. I honestly feel that when he and Bautista are healthy, that they have they best 3-4 combo in the game today. Yet, it does seem that they both have had their share of injuries in the past.

  • Baked McBride

    annnndddd – ACTION!
    Enter stage left – Brian McCann
    calls for hightight FB to back Batista the F up
    brawl ensues
    BJs never the same

    SCENE!

  • pinedamaybegreata (formerly Monterowasdinero)

    Bautista coming back from wrist surgery has to be encouraging for Tex (assuming the surgery was the same).

    Very excited to see the splitter from Tanaka and how fast he dials up his fb too. Pineda’s start will be very anticipated as well.

    As for CC, hoping it is not too painful watching him nibble that outside corner against those big righty bats. He needs to pitch backwards and challenge inside with his fb more than usual.

  • The Belafonte

    Man, I know hindsight is 20/20 but, you think the Reds would like a do over with that Rolen trade?

    • Electric

      Nah. They made the playoffs for the first time in like 20 years with Rolen and where would Encarnacion even play with Votto on that team?

    • John S.

      Weren’t the Yankees once rumored to be trying to acquire Encarnacion when A-Rod opted out after 2007?

    • J6 Takish

      The a’s had EE for like a week before Toronto reacquired him. Whoops

  • lightSABR

    Does anybody else here occasionally find themselves grinning for no reason other than that baseball is back?

    • Havok9120

      Fairly often.

    • Wheels

      Would be grinning more if the weather was warmer.

      • The Great Gonzo

        And if that Houston abortion didn’t happen

      • Havok9120

        80 degrees and sunny in New Orleans.

    • vicki

      yep.

  • John S.

    “3B Brett Lawrie (94/-15) is still a maniac” I lol’ed at that.

    • Silvio

      He’s gonna “maniac” himself into traction some day. The Jays’ announcers were saying, during an exhib. game vs NYY, that he needs to dial down a bit to avoid DL visits.

  • Baked McBride

    Am I the only one that thinks Toronto actually became worse offensively when Rajai left?

  • TWTR

    It wouldn’t suck if they could score some runs in the first inning to take a little pressure off.

  • forensic

    It’s not a huge deal, but as someone who has Janssen sitting on my fantasy team DL, I can tell you he’s actually working back from a lower back/side strain, not a shoulder problem.

  • http://4runhomerun.sportsblog.com add162

    CANT WAIT to see TANAKA and then MICHAEL PINEDA. We might be seeing the future 1/2 of the yankees blossom. Hopefully they hit the ground running. Check out my blog for predictions for terrible Tanaka puns! lol

  • http://4runhomerun.sportsblog.com add162

    Just click on my name, thanks!

  • Wheels

    Sheesh, Francesa said he didn’t even see Tanaka pitch in spring training. New York’s #1

    • vicki

      why why why are you listening to him?

      • Wheels

        I find his show unintentionally hilarious.

  • vicki

    does it make me a bad person that i wouldn’t mind seeing lawrie take a line drive to the head?

    • http://www.penuel-law.com/ Cuso

      Pretty much. Wishing injury on someone just about defines “bad person.”

      • vicki

        i would say acting on savage impulses does, not having them. but you have a right to your opinion. and your grudge.

  • jgibs

    Would give my left nut to see Tanaka’s debut tonight. Alas, it sucks to be a broke-ass Yankees fan in Red Sox territory

  • The Other Matt

    No Jeter, Soriano, or Roberts in the lineup tonight.