7/16-7/18 Series Preview: Toronto Blue Jays

(REUTERS/Mike Cassese)

The Yankees have 74 games left to play this season, and 15 16 of them will be against the Blue Jays. That’s basically one out of every five games. Three of those 15 games will be played this week, starting tonight in the Bronx.

What Have They Done Lately?

Toronto just took two straight from the Indians but have won just five of their last eleven games overall. They’ve hovered right around .500 all season long and are currently 45-44 overall, good enough to put them in a last-place tie with the Red Sox. Their +26 run differential is the third best in the division and sixth best in the league.

Offense

(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)

Only two teams have scored more total runs than the Blue Jays this season. They average just shy of five full runs per game on offense (4.99 to be exact) and own a team 104 wRC+. The guys who do the most damage are, naturally, Jose Bautista (142 wRC+) and Edwin Encarnacion (160 wRC+). They rank second and fourth in the AL with 27 and 25 homers, respectively. They’re not quite vintage David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez, but Bautista-Encarnacion is one of the game’s very best three-four lineup combinations.

Beyond those two, Toronto also has a surging Colby Rasmus (113 wRC+) and a bunch of guys who rate right around league average: Brett Lawrie (102 wRC+), personal fave Kelly Johnson (100 wRC+), and Adam Lind (93 wRC+). Lind has hit very well since returning from Triple-A, but it’s only been 16 games. Rajai Davis (86 wRC+) brings the speed, J.P. Arencibia (85 wRC+) the power, Yunel Escobar (72 wRC+) the contact skills, and Omar Vizquel (33 wRC+) gives sweet veteran presents. Ben Francisco (78 wRC+) hasn’t played much due to a hamstring issue and Jeff Mathis (120 wRC+) hit the snot out of the ball in April before crashing back to Earth. The Jays are always tough and this series will be no different.

Pitching Matchups

Monday: RHP Phil Hughes vs. RHP Henderson Alvarez
The Blue Jays currently have four starting pitchers on the DL, but Alvarez has been able to avoid the injury big so far. The 22-year-old right-hander owns a 4.36 ERA (5.19 FIP) because he gets ground balls (59.1%) and limits walks (1.93 BB/9 and 5.0 BB%), though his strikeout rate (3.02 K/9 and 7.9 K%) is the second lowest among qualified starters behind Derek Lowe. Alvarez just doesn’t miss bats despite throwing four distinct pitches: low-to-mid-90s two and four-seamers, a mid-80s slider, and a mid-80s changeup. Left-handed batters have hammered him for a .375 wOBA (.318 vs. RHB) as well. The Yankees saw Alvarez once last September, hanging five runs on him in six innings.

(REUTERS/Frank Polich)

Tuesday: LHP CC Sabathia vs. LHP Brett Cecil
Cecil absolutely annihilated the Yankees back in 2010 — ten total runs allowed in five starts — but he’s not the same pitcher anymore. Toronto sent him all the way down to Double-A earlier this year before the injuries forced him back into the rotation, where he’s pitched to a 6.75 ERA (5.66 FIP) in five starts to far. Cecil can still strike guys out a bit (7.09 K/9 and 17.5 K%) and he doesn’t walk a ton (3.38 BB/9 and 8.3 BB%), but he is one of the game’s most extreme fly ball (26.5% grounders) and homerun (2.03 HR/9) pitchers. His fastball has dipped down into the mid-to-upper-80s, creating little separation with his low-80s changeup. A mid-80s slider and upper-70s curveball round out his repertoire. The Yankees have seen quite a bit of Cecil over the last few years, and he’s gotten progressively worse each time.

Wednesday: RHP Hiroki Kuroda vs. LHP Ricky Romero
At this time last season, Romero looked like he was in the middle of a breakout season and on his way towards becoming one of the game’s elite hurlers. The 27-year-old southpaw has taken a big step back this year though, posting a 5.03 ERA (5.18 FIP) in 19 starts. His ground ball rate (55.7%) is holding on strong, but the strikeout (6.34 K/9 and 16.1 K%) and walk (4.64 BB/9 and 11.7 BB%) numbers have taken huge steps backwards. Romero’s stuff — low-90s two and four-seamers, low-to-mid-80s changeup, mid-to-upper-70s curve — remains unchanged, but his command has been off. He’ll falling behind in the count far too often — 51.5% first pitch strikes this year, down almost 9% from the last few years — and getting pounded because of it.

(J. Meric/Getty Images)

Bullpen Status
The Indians worked Toronto’s bullpen over pretty well these last few days, forcing lefty reliever extraordinaire Darren Oliver (2.81 FIP) to throw two innings for the save yesterday. Regular closer Casey Janssen (3.04 FIP) had appeared in each of the previous two games. Right-hander Jason Frasor (3.65 FIP) has also worked in two of the last three games and is the third wheel in manager John Farrell’s late-inning trio.

Because their rotation has been so compromised, the Jays are currently employing a 13-man pitching staff. You’ve never heard of most of them either. Aaron Loup (3.07 FIP in two innings) is their only other southpaw besides Oliver, then you have Chad Beck (5.13 FIP in 5.1 innings), Drew Carpenter (10.57 FIP in two innings), and Sam Dyson (one whole out recorded so far). Oh, and then there’s the veteran Francisco Cordero (5.68 FIP), who has been one of the two or three worst qualified relievers in baseball this year. If the starter can get them through six innings, Toronto is generally okay. If not, all bets are off.

The Yankees’ key late-inning guys all got some rest yesterday, so they’re in good shape Make sure you check out our Bullpen Workload page for exact reliever usage. There are a number of great sites you can check out for the latest and greatest on the Blue Jays, including Drunk Jays Fans and Tao of Stieb.

Fan Confidence Poll: July 16th, 2012

Record Last Week: 2-1 (19 RS, 18 RA)
Season Record: 54-34 (412 RS, 365 RA, 49-39 pythag. record), 8.0 games up in AL East
Opponents This Week: vs. Blue Jays (three games, Mon. to Weds.), @ Athletics (four games, Thurs. to Sun.)

Top stories from last week:

Please take a second to answer the poll below and give us an idea of how confident you are in the team. You can view the interactive Fan Confidence Graph anytime via the nav bar above, or by clicking here. Thanks in advance for voting.

Given the team's current roster construction, farm system, management, etc., how confident are you in the Yankees' overall future?
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Ninth inning rally falls short; Yankees unable to complete sweep of Angels

Two out of three ain’t bad, but man it would have been nice to see the Yankees complete that five-run comeback in the ninth. Especially against the Angels, that would have been sweet.

(Al Bello/Getty Images)

Lift & Separate

That was the way David Cone described Mark Teixeira‘s homerun swing the ninth inning. Lift and separate, like a Wonderbra. Coney always seems to have a way with words.

Anyway, Teixeira’s dinger was the team’s fourth of the day and the first runs (it was a two-run shot) allowed by Ernesto Frieri since the Angels acquired him from the Padres, a span of 26.1 innings. Alex Rodriguez took Jered Weaver deep for a two-run shot in the first, Curtis Granderson got him for a solo shot in the sixth, and Eric Chavez tacked on another solo dinger in the seventh. Weaver still owns a shiny 0.58 ERA at home, but the Yankees raised his road mark to 3.63 on Sunday afternoon.

(Al Bello/Getty Images)

All The Runs Allowed

Eight runs and 17 baserunners is a pretty good way to win a game, but not when the Yankees received the kind of pitching they did out of Ivan Nova and Chad Qualls. Nova surrendered back-to-back homers to Erick Aybar (!) and Albert Pujols in the first plus a two-run shot to Maicer Izturis (!!) in the sixth. Izturis came into the game with a .266 SLG (!!!). The Halos tagged him for nine hits — four for extra bases — and six runs in six innings, bringing his season ERA back up over 4.00 (4.18 to be exact) after getting under for one start.

Qualls wasn’t much better, allowing three runs while getting four outs. That allowed the Angels to break things open and put the game to bed, ninth inning rally or not. Since coming over from the Phillies, the veteran right-handed reliever has faced 23 batters in pinstripes and has struck out exactly one. It’s good that he’s a sinker baller and all that, but it can be problematic with a below average defense on the left side of the infield. D.J. Mitchell gave up the obligatory homer to Mark Trumbo (a solo shot) and pitched out of a bases loaded situation in the ninth. Just an ugly day on the mound overall, no doubt.

Gift Outs

The Yankees kept the Angels in the game during the first five innings by just flat out giving away outs at times. Russell Martin bunted into three outs — one was popped up and Chavez was doubled off first — and three others came on the bases. Derek Jeter was caught making a wide turn around first on an RBI single in the second and then both Robinson Cano and A-Rod were picked off on the same play in the third. Cano got caught in a rundown between first and second before A-Rod was thrown out trying to sneak home. It was bad, very bad. Especially with Teixeira at the plate. At one point five of eight Yankees reached base against Weaver but four of those gift-wrapped outs killed rallies. Brutal.

Go go Granderson defense! (Al Bello/Getty Images)

Leftovers

The Yankees have now scored at least three runs in 39 straight games, a new franchise record. That’s kinda surprising, no? I would have guessed the record would have been like, 60 straight games by one of those Babe Ruth-Lou Gehrig teams or something. Neat little footnote in an otherwise forgettable game.

Every starter had a hit except for Martin and Nick Swisher, though at least Swish drew a pair of walks. Martin contributed nothing to the offense two days after providing the winning hit. Cano extended his hitting streak to 18 games, the second longest of his career. He’s three away from tying his career-long set back in 2010. Chavez went 3-for-3 with the homer to raise his season line to .290/.340/.522 in 153 plate appearances. He’s going to have to get regular DH at-bats when Brett Gardner comes back, right?

The ninth inning rally — three runs on two hits and four walks — fell short when A-Rod popped up to end the game, but at least they made it very interesting. Frieri and Scott Downs came into the weekend having allowing just one earned run between them, but the Yankees hung six on them in the series. I figured the game was over once Qualls did his thing, so the late-rally was enjoyable even if it fell short.

One last note: Granderson made two just insane catches in center to prevent the Angels from really breaking things open. That catch at the wall of Mike Trout’s fly ball in the third could have easily been an inside-the park homer if he didn’t reel it in. Between the homer, the monster eight-pitch at-bat to draw a walk (and force in a run) off Downs in the ninth, and the two catches, you can make a case that this was Grandy’s best game of the season.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings

MLB.com has the box score and video highlights, FanGraphs the nerd score, and ESPN the updated standings. The Orioles lost, so the Yankees still have a comfortable eight-game lead in the division. The Rays are nine back, the Red Sox and Blue Jays ten each. Pretty awesome.


Source: FanGraphs

Up Next

Those Blue Jays are coming to town for a three-game set starting Monday night. Phil Hughes kicks that one off against Henderson Alvarez. Check out RAB Tickets for the latest and greatest deals if you want to attend the game.

Gamel leads the way in big Charleston win

Triple-A Scranton (4-2 win over Syracuse)
CF-LF Kevin Russo & DH Jack Cust: both 1-4 — Cust drove in a run and struck out
2B Corban Joseph, RF Cole Garner & C Gus Molina: all 1-4, 1 R — CoJo doubled and committed a fielding error … Molina homered, drove in three, and struck out
LF Ronnie Mustelier: 0-2 — left the game after grounding out in the third
CF Chris Dickerson: 1-2 — replaced Mustelier
1B Brandon Laird: 2-4, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 K — not sure where Russell Branyan has been
SS Ramiro Pena: 1-4, 1 K
3B Doug Bernier: 1-3
RHP John Maine: 6 IP, 2 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 4 BB, 4 K, 3/5 GB/FB — 64 of 99 pitches were strikes
RHP Cory Wade: 3 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 4/2 GB/FB — 22 of 28 pitches were strikes (79%) … we won’t have any idea if he’s righted the ship until he actually gets back in the bigs, but zeroes down here are better than something else

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Sunday Night Open Thread

Pretty sure Spike could outhit Russell Martin at this point. (Al Bello/Getty Images)

You can’t win ’em all I suppose, and winning two out of three against the Angels is pretty good anyway. Plus they won the season series, so hooray for that. Anyway, here’s your open thread for the night. ESPN is in Cincinnati for the Sunday Night Game, the Cardinals at the Reds (Westbrook vs. Bailey). Breaking Bad also starts back up tonight, and that’s awesome. Talk about whatever you want here, enjoy.

Cashman talks Cano, Granderson, trade deadline

Prior to this afternoon’s game against the Angels, Brian Cashman spoke to the media about a number of pressing topics. I was planning to do a bullet point recap, but MLBTR did one already so I’ll just point you that way. In a nutshell, Cashman said they’ll explore extensions for Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson this offseason and that prices leading up to the deadline are too high for marginal upgrades.

The second point is obvious, of course he’s going to say trade prices are too high. The first point is interesting only because both Cano and Granderson are under contract for next season — or at least will be once their no-brainer options are picked up — and the team’s policy is to not re-sign players until their current deals expire. Cano was already the exception once before and if they’re going to break policy again, he’s certainly the guy to do it with. No harm is exploring a long-term deal for Granderson as well, but he will be 33 in the first year of a new pact. Can’t get caught up in paying either guy for what they’ve already done.

Game 88: For The Sweep

(AP Photo/Kathy Kmonicek)

I’m a simple guy, I just want the Yankees to keep winning series as the season progresses. Taking two of three in each series is a 108-win pace, so it seems like a good plan. The Yanks have already won this series, but a sweep of those annoying Angels would make for just a swell Sunday. Words can’t describe how much I would enjoy that third win today. Here’s the lineup…

SS Derek Jeter
CF Curtis Granderson
3B Alex Rodriguez
2B Robinson Cano
1B Mark Teixeira
RF Nick Swisher
LF Raul Ibanez
DH Eric Chavez
C Russell Martin

RHP Ivan Nova

Today’s game starts a little after 1pm ET and can be seen on YES locally and TBS nationally. Enjoy.