The Rest of the AL East [2016 Season Preview]

Over the last six seasons, each of the five AL East teams has won at least one division title. The Yankees (2011, 2012) are the only club with multiple division titles in the last six years. The days of the AL East being dominated by the Yankees and Red Sox are long gone. The other three teams are no longer pushovers.

For what it’s worth, the projections at FanGraphs have the five AL East teams all winning between 79-88 games in 2016, a gap of only nine wins. Baseball Prospectus has them all in the 75-87 win range. If nothing else, the objective computers think the five clubs are pretty close in terms of talent level. You’re welcome to disagree, of course.

Because knowing your enemy is just as important as knowing yourself, let’s take some time to preview the upcoming season for the four non-Yankees teams in the AL East. This is nothing too in-depth. It’s just enough to give you an idea what the Yankees are up against in 2016.

Is the Showalter honeymoon over? (Presswire)
(Presswire)

Baltimore Orioles

Notable Additions: Mark Trumbo, Pedro Alvarez, Yovani Gallardo
Notable Losses: Wei-Yin Chen, Steve Pearce, Gerardo Parra

The Orioles went 81-81 last season, and they had to commit $207.8M to Chris Davis, Darren O’Day, and Matt Wieters this offseason just to keep their core intact. Also, Kevin Gausman is dealing with a shoulder issue and Miguel Gonzalez was released yesterday, so their rotation right now is:

  1. Chris Tillman
  2. Yovani Gallardo
  3. Ubaldo Jimenez
  4. ???
  5. ???

That seems less than ideal. O’Day and Zach Britton are a dynamite end-game tandem, but I’m not sure how manager Buck Showalter expects to get the ball to them. They’re counting on a big time bounceback from Tillman and consistency from Jimenez (lol), and for Gallardo to chew up innings better than he did last year. He completed six innings just twice in his final 16 starts of 2015.

The O’s are going to have to win a lot of 7-6 games to contend and they have the firepower to do so. Davis, Trumbo, Alvarez, Adam Jones, and Manny Machado are all legitimate 30 homer threats. Watch out for Jonathan Schoop too. He hit 15 homers in only 321 plate appearances last year. The Trumbo and Alvarez pickups don’t do anything to help the club’s OBP problem — the O’s were 26th in baseball with a .307 OBP in 2015 — so while they might hit 250 home runs this season, most of them will be solo shots.

Baltimore is the only AL East team that would really surprise me by winning the division. They’re going to hit a ton of homers, there’s no doubt about that, but they don’t get on base and the pitching staff is thin. I mean really, really thin. The O’s will be a headache to play this season. Over the course of 162 games though, I feel it’s only a matter of time until they fall behind the rest of the AL East.

A worthy foe. (Presswire)
A worthy foe. (Presswire)

Boston Red Sox

Notable Additions: David Price, Craig Kimbrel, Carson Smith, Chris Young
Notable Losses: Wade Miley

For the third or fourth year in a row, the Red Sox changed philosophies this offseason, deciding to spend big after former GM Ben Cherington spent a few years preaching restraint and flexibility. New baseball operations chief Dave Dombrowski is all about big names, has been for years, hence the Price signing and Kimbrel trade. Those moves were right in his wheelhouse.

Price gives the BoSox the ace they so clearly lacked, but I think the bullpen additions are going to help them more than Price. Kimbrel and Smith are replacing Alexei Ogando and Craig Breslow, who combined to allow 62 runs in 130.1 innings in 2015. Those two will join Koji Uehara and Junichi Tazawa in the late innings. (Smith’s dealing with a flexor injury and will miss the start of the regular season.)

Offensively, the Red Sox have sneaky big questions in five spots: catcher (Blake Swihart), first base (Hanley Ramirez), third base (Pablo Sandoval), left field (Rusney Castillo), and center field (Jackie Bradley Jr.). They’re already talking about sending Castillo to Triple-A and playing a Young/Brock Holt platoon in left, and apparently now Travis Shaw is the starting third baseman. Everyone seems to be assuming Hanley and Bradley will have above-average seasons because … I don’t know why. At least Hanley has his track record to fall back on.

The Red Sox get the benefit of the doubt more than any chronically underachieving team deserves. They have talent, that much is clear, but they’ve had talent the last two years too, and they still finished in last place. The Red Sox are going to be tough to play against because they’re always tough to play against. Bet on them at your own risk though. No club has done less with more the last two seasons.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Tampa Bay Rays

Notable Additions: Logan Morrison, Brad Miller, Hank Conger, Steve Pearce, Corey Dickerson
Notable Losses: Asdrubal Cabrera, John Jaso, Nate Karns, Jake McGee, James Loney

Only the White Sox scored fewer runs than the Rays among AL teams a year ago, so Tampa Bay set out to improve their offense by acquiring a bunch of guys who can be good if used in very specific ways. Dickerson is good as long as he never faces lefties and is your DH. Miller is good as long as he never faces lefties and the ball is never hit to him. That kinda thing. That’s what the Rays do. They find imperfect players and try to use them perfectly.

The Rays did sacrifice some defense for offense this winter. Morrison is unquestionably worse at first base than Loney. (Loney was told he won’t make the team yesterday.) Remember how shaky and goof prone Didi Gregorius was early last year? That’s Miller all the time. Asdrubal is no great shakes in the field, but he is sure-handed. Conger, meanwhile, is the worst throwing catcher in baseball. He went 1-for-43 throwing out base-stealers last year. That is not a typo. 1-for-43. o n e f o r f o r t y t h r e e

To their credit, the Rays ostensibly improved their weaknesses without sacrificing too much from their strengths. They still have a solid rotation even without Karns and their defense is not atrocious. The bullpen is a little up in the air because McGee is gone and Brad Boxberger will miss a few weeks following core muscle surgery, so that’s their big question right now. Manager Kevin Cash usually doesn’t let his non-Chris Archer starters go through the lineup a third time, and those middle innings are rather treacherous.

For Tampa Bay to contend this year, they’ll need Evan Longoria to get back to where he was earlier in his career, and I’m not sure how possible that is. He’s now 30 and his power is starting to vanish; he went from being a consistent .230+ ISO guy to a .150 ISO guy the last two seasons. That’s bad news for the Rays, especially since his six-year, $100M extension kicks in next year. The Rays will be in the hunt this year, but, as always, they’ll need a lot to go right to beat out division rivals with more resources.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Toronto Blue Jays

Notable Additions: Jesse Chavez, J.A. Happ, Drew Storen, Gavin Floyd
Notable Losses: David Price, Mark Buehrle, Mark Lowe, Liam Hendriks, Ben Revere

You’d think going to the postseason for the first time in two decades would be enough to keep the GM around, but apparently not. The Blue Jays named former Indians president Mark Shapiro their new president last year, replacing the retired Paul Beeston, and GM Alex Anthopoulos felt his authority would be undermined, so he rejected an extension offer and walked away over the winter. Crazy, huh?

The Blue Jays have never been huge spenders and Shapiro himself has a history of steering clear of big free agents, so the team never made much of an effort to keep Price. They instead opted to replace him (and Buehrle) with Happ, Chavez, and a full year of Marcus Stroman. It … might work? They only had Price for eleven starts in 2015, after all. Buehrle was close to toast by the end of the season too.

Toronto still has their powerhouse lineup — they scored 891 runs last season, 127 more than the second highest scoring team (Yankees!) and the most by any team since the 2009 Yankees (915) — and now they’ll have a full year of Troy Tulowitzki at shortstop. Even if he spends time on the DL, 100 games of Tulo and 62 games of a replacement level player is still one of the best shortstops in the game.

As I said this morning, I am of the belief the Blue Jays will outscore any pitching problems. The Yankees did that for years in the mid-2000s. I’m an offense first guy. I’ll always bet on the team with a juggernaut offense coming out ahead over the course of a 162-game season. The Blue Jays may not be quite as imposing as they were in the second half last season, but they’re still very good. Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion will be free agents next offseason, so this might be the club’s last chance to win with this core.

Yankeemetrics: It’s getting late early (Sept. 21-23)

(USA Today Sports Photo)
(USA Today Sports Photo)

Out of our Price range
The biggest takeaway from Monday’s crushing loss to the Blue Jays in the Most Important Series of the Year, is that there’s little doubt about the impact that David Price has made on this AL East race.

Since joining Toronto, Price is now 3-0 with a 1.71 ERA in four starts against the Yankees — and the only game he didn’t win (Aug. 14), he left with a 3-1 lead. A quick glance at the division standings shows that the Yankees are three games back of the Blue Jays in the loss column. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to do that math.

Price was brilliant again in this game, holding the Yankees to just two hits in seven scoreless innings. It was the second time this season he’s allowed no runs and no more than three hits against the Yankees (also on Aug. 8). The last left-handed pitcher with two starts like that against the Yankees in a single season was the Orioles Dave McNally in 1974.

The loss dropped to the Yankees to 5-12 against the Blue Jays this season. That’s their most single-season losses versus Toronto in franchise history.

Killing two Birds with one stone
A player that was in Double-A just a few months ago, in rookie ball the last time the Yankees made the playoffs, and in high school the last time they won the World Series — kept their hopes for a division title alive with one swing of the bat on Tuesday night.

Greg Bird’s dramatic tie-breaking, three-run homer in the 10th inning was the decisive blow in a game the Yankees simply couldn’t lose. Bird has had his share of True Yankee Moments, and this one etched his name in the record books. Here we go …

• he is the third Yankee age 22 or younger to hit an extra-inning home run. The others were a 21-year-old Melky Cabrera in 2006 against the Mariners and a 22-year-old Derek Jeter in 1996 versus the Royals;

• he joins Tino Martinez in 1997 as the only first baseman in franchise history with an extra-inning homer against the Blue Jays;

• and, now our Obscure Yankeemetric of the Week: he is the first Yankee infielder in the last 75 seasons with a multi-RBI, extra-inning homer in a September game.

Bird’s blast was also the third extra-inning three-run home run the Yankees have hit this season. If that sounds like a lot, well … In the past 75 years, this is the only time they’ve squeezed three three-run, extra-inning homers into a single season.

Bird wasn’t the only superstar in this game. Luis Severino tossed another gem with six innings of two-run, three-hit ball — the third time in nine starts he’s allowed no more than three hits. The only other Yankees in the Live Ball Era (since 1920) with at least three starts of three hits or fewer in a season as a 21-year-old or younger are Whitey Ford (1950), Tom Morgan (1951) and Bill Burbach (1969).

It’s not what you want
While Wednesday’s loss doesn’t officially eliminate the Yankees from the AL East race — we all know that it ain’t over til it’s over — but it does put a huge dent in their division title hopes. It’s awfully hard to make up three games in the loss column with 11 to play and no more head-to-head matchups against the team you’re chasing. Sigh.

In what has been a recurring theme against this Blue Jays team, the Yankees offense went into hibernation in the 4-0 loss. This was the third time they’ve been shut out by Toronto this season; the rest of baseball has pitched just three shutouts combined against the Yankees.

With the loss, the Yankees finished 4-5 at the Rogers Centre, their sixth straight sub-.500 record at the stadium. That’s their longest active streak of losing seasons at any American League ballpark.

Our old friend Russell Martin was responsible for all four of the Blue Jays runs, scoring the first one on Kevin Pillar’s RBI single in the sixth inning, and then driving in three more with a homer in the seventh inning. That gave him 17 RBIs as a catcher (and one as a pinch hitter) against the Yankees this season, the most by any backstop in the Divisional Era (since 1969).

Ending on a positive note, we’ve got one milestone alert for this game: A-Rod’s ninth-inning double was the 540th two-bagger of his career, matching Hall of Famers Joe Medwick and Dave Winfield for 35th place on the all-time list.

9/21 to 9/23 Series Preview: Toronto Blue Jays

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Once again, it’s time for the biggest series of the season. It’s been the biggest series of the season the last three times the Yankees and Blue Jays met. They’ll play three games in Toronto this week, starting tonight. The Blue Jays have dominated the Yankees this season. They’re 11-5 against New York and have outscored them 73-48. That said, these clubs are an even 3-3 at Rogers Centre in 2015.

What Have The Blue Jays Done Lately?

Believe it or not, the Blue Jays lost their last series. The Red Sox did the Yankees a solid and took two of three in Toronto this weekend. The Blue Jays are 85-64 with +213 run differential overall. That’s the second best record in the AL and by far the best run differential in baseball. The Cardinals are a distance second at +113. A hundred run gap. Sheesh. The Yankees are 2.5 games back of Toronto in the AL East (two in the loss column).

Offense & Defense

By now you know the Blue Jays have a powerhouse offense. The best in baseball by a not small margin. They’re averaging 5.51 runs per game with a team 115 wRC+ this year, both the best marks in MLB, and that includes 5.57 runs per game and a team 125 wRC+ at home. It’s a great offense that’s even better at home. Toronto is currently without SS Troy Tulowitzki (shoulder), 2B Devon Travis (shoulder), OF Michael Saunders (knee), and IF Maicer Izturis (shoulder). None are due back this series.

Donaldson. (Presswire)
Donaldson. (Presswire)

Even without Tulowitzki, manager John Gibbons has three elite hitters in 3B Josh Donaldson (155 wRC+), OF Jose Bautista (146 wRC+), and 1B Edwin Encarnacion (148 wRC+). They have 39, 36, and 34 home runs, respectively. The Play Index tells me the last team to have three qualified hitters with at least 30 homers and a 145 OPS+ was the 2004 Cardinals (Albert Pujols, Jim Edmonds, Scott Rolen). Donaldson, Bautista, and Encarnacion are on pace to become the sixth such trio in history. Somehow the Yankees have never done it.

OF Ben Revere (96 wRC+), C Russell Martin (111 wRC+), OF Kevin Pillar (79 wRC+), and the first base platoon of 1B Justin Smoak (109 wRC+) and 1B/OF Chris Colabello (145 wRC+) is the supporting cast. IF Ryan Goins (84 wRC+) is playing short with Tulowitzki hurt and IF Cliff Pennington (53 wRC+) is at second. C Dioner Navarro (83 wRC+) is the backup catcher and OF Dalton Pompey is the designated September pinch-runner. C Josh Thole, IF Munenori Kawasaki, UTIL Matt Hague, OF Ezequiel Carrera, and IF Darwin Barney are the extra September players.

The Blue Jays are a very good defensive team even without Tulo. Their only below-average gloveman is whoever is playing first base on a given day. Martin, Donaldson, and Pillar are all elite at their positions while Goins, Bautista, and Pennington are above-average. Revere is average overall because he can’t throw at all. Arguably the worst outfield arm in the game. He does have range though. Toronto doesn’t get enough credit for being so well-rounded.

Pitching Matchups

Monday (7pm ET): RHP Adam Warren (vs. TOR) vs. LHP David Price (vs. NYY)
This is the fourth Yankees-Blue Jays series since the All-Star break, and, predictably, Price will pitch in all four. The 30-year-old southpaw has a 2.42 ERA (2.80 FIP) in 30 starts and 208.1 innings this season, making this the best year of his career. It’s even better than his Cy Young season back in 2012. His strikeout (25.9%), walk (5.4%), and homer (0.69 HR/9) rates are all great, and while his grounder rate (41.1%) is below-average, it doesn’t matter because he generates so much weak contact. Lefties (.289 wOBA) have actually hit Price harder than righties (.269 wOBA), which is a trend that started last year. Price is a pure power pitcher, living in the mid-90s with his two and four-seam fastballs, and a notch below that with his cutter. He also throws a nasty mid-80s changeup and a few upper-70s curves. Price locates everything very well. The best combination of power and command in the game. The Yankees have faced Price four times this season: eight runs in 2.1 innings in April, seven scoreless inning in early-August, three runs in 7.1 innings in mid-August, and two runs in five innings earlier this month.

Tuesday (7pm ET): RHP Luis Severino (vs. TOR) vs. RHP Marco Estrada (vs. NYY)
Estrada, 32, has a 3.14 ERA (4.42 FIP) in 160.1 innings spread across 25 starts and six relief appearances this summer. He started the year as the long man before moving into the rotation. His walk rate (7.9%) is about average but everything else is below-average: 18.1 K%, 32.3 GB%, and 1.18 HR/9. Estrada has been very homer prone throughout his career (career 1.36 HR/9), and while he was able to keep the ball in the park earlier this season, he’s now allowed ten homers in his last eight starts. Thanks to his upper-80s changeup, Estrada has had more success against lefties (.273 wOBA) than righties (.289 wOBA) both this year and throughout his career. An upper-80s four-seam fastball sets up that changeup as well as his upper-70s curveball. Like Price, Estrada has started against the Yankees four times this year: five runs in 4.2 innings in May, 6.1 scoreless innings in early-August, two runs in six innings in mid-August, and four runs in five innings last week.

Estrada. (Presswire)
Estrada. (Presswire)

Wednesday (7pm ET): RHP Ivan Nova (vs. TOR) vs. RHP Marcus Stroman (vs. NYY)
A torn ACL suffered during a fielding drill in Spring Training was supposed to end Stroman’s season, but his rehab went exceptionally well, and he was able to rejoin the rotation a week and a half ago. The 24-year-old has allowed four runs on ten hits and three walks in 12 innings so far, striking out five with a 68.4% ground ball rate. He had a 3.65 ERA (2.84 FIP) in 130.2 innings last year, his big league debut. Stroman throws six pitches regularly, led by his low-to-mid-90s two and four-seam fastballs. He also throws a low-90s cutter and sliders, curveballs, and changeups in the mid-80s. Stroman uses all of ’em. He’s quite unpredictable. The Yankees saw him in his first start off the DL last week, and scored three runs in five innings.

Bullpen Status
Thanks to some trade deadline pickups and roster shuffling, Gibbons now has a strong and deep bullpen at his disposal. Rookie RHP Roberto Osuna (2.38 ERA/2.91 FIP) is closing with ex-starter RHP Aaron Sanchez (3.27/4.77) and LHP Brett Cecil (2.77/2.71) handling setup duties. RHP Mark Lowe (1.53/2.15) will also see some high-leverage work from time-to-time.

RHP Drew Hutchison (5.33/4.25) was moved to the bullpen after Stroman rejoined the rotation. He joins RHP LaTroy Hawkins (2.57/3.15), RHP Liam Hendriks (2.52/1.99), LHP Aaron Loup (4.76/3.80), and RHP Bo Schultz (3.46/4.78) in the middle innings. RHP Steve Delabar, LHP Jeff Francis, RHP Chad Jenkins, and RHP Ryan Tepera are the extra September arms. Hendriks, Cecil, Lowe, and Hawkins all pitched yesterday.

Our Bullpen Workload page can keep you updated on the status of Joe Girardi‘s heavily used bullpen. Andrew Stoeten’s site is the place to go for Blue Jays news and analysis, though the language is not exactly family friendly. Consider yourself forewarned.

Yankeemetrics: Not done yet in the Bronx (Sept. 11-13)

A win, finally! (AP Photo)
A win, finally! (AP Photo)

Severi-No
You probably could not have drawn up a worse start to the Most Important Series of The Season. Luis Severino allowed five of the first six batters to reach base and each of those guys scored, putting the Yankees in a 5-0 hole after the first inning and setting the tone for the eventual 11-5 blowout loss on Friday night.

The Blue Jays finished with 16 hits, including five homers — the first time ever they’ve had that many hits and home runs in a game at Yankee Stadium (old or new).

I think its safe to say that David Price would have no problems pitching at the friendly confines of Yankee Stadium (you know, if he was ever to somehow do that more than a few times per season). He is now 6-0 with a 1.66 ERA in his last eight starts at Yankee Stadium.

He’s the first visiting pitcher to go undefeated in eight straight road starts against the Yankees since Bret Saberhagen from 1985-99. And Price is also the first visitor to win six straight decisions at Yankee Stadium since David Wells from 1987-1991.

Didi Gregorius was a one-man show on offense, going 2-for-4 and driving in four of the team’s five runs, the third time he’s had at least 4 RBIs this season. Gregorius is the first Yankee shortstop to have three games of four-or-more RBIs since Frankie Crosetti in 1936.

Nightmare on 161st Street, Part I and II
There are many words to describe Saturday’s doubleheader and none of them are good. The Yankees allowed 19 runs combined, and were swept in a doubleheader at Yankee Stadium by the Blue Jays for the first time in franchise history. The only other time the Blue Jays took both games of a doubleheader against the Yankees was August 2, 1983 at Exhibition Stadium in Toronto.

The Blue Jays hit four homers in the slugfest — and combined with their five-homer outburst on Friday — this is the first time ever that the Yankees have allowed at least four home runs in back-to-back games at Yankee Stadium (old or new). The last time they gave up at least four dingers in consecutive games to the same opponent anywhere was in 1977 to the Red Sox.

Just when you thought it couldn’t get worse for the Yankees after the demoralizing loss in the first game … then the second game of the doubleheader happened. It was another embarrassing loss as the Blue Jays won their seventh straight game at Yankee Stadium, their longest win streak in the Bronx ever. (Remember when the Yankees won 17 games in a row at home against the Blue Jays, spanning the 2012-14 seasons? Yeah, good times.)

The two losses dropped the Yankees to 1-8 against the Blue Jays at Yankee Stadium. That’s their most home losses to any opponent in a single season in the Divisional Era (since 1969).

Ivan Nova had a miserable outing in the nightcap, allowing six runs on seven hits and also squeezed in two wild pitches and hit two batters in his 1 2/3 innings. He is the first Yankee pitcher in the last 100 years to throw multiple wild pitches and hit at least two batters in fewer than two innings pitched.

Once again in the second game, the Yankees offense was a one-man show, this time starring Brett Gardner. He hit two three-run homers, driving in six of the Yankees seven runs in the 10-7 loss. Gardner is just the third player in franchise history with at least six RBIs in a loss at Yankee Stadium. The others were Bernie Williams on June 17, 2000 vs. the White Sox and Mike Stanley on August 10, 1995 against the Indians.

Masa-Hero
This is what aces do. Masahiro Tanaka was masterful in shutting down the powerful Jays lineup on Sunday afternoon, throwing seven scoreless innings with seven strikeouts as the Yankees avoided the sweep with a 5-0 shutout.

Tanaka — who gave up one run and struck out eight in a complete game win in his last start against Toronto — joined David Cone (1997) as the only Yankees with consecutive games of at least seven innings pitched, no more than one run allowed and at least seven strikeouts against the Blue Jays.

Dustin Ackley went 2-for-2 and drove in three runs with a homer and a sac fly, giving the Yankees a huge boost against the knuckleballer R.A. Dickey. Ackley is now 6-for-13 (.462) with two homers in his career off Dickey, the second-highest batting average by any lefty with that many at-bats vs. Dickey.

9/10 to 9/13 Series Preview: Toronto Blue Jays

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

So this is the big one. The most important series of not only the 2015 season, but the most important series for the Yankees since 2012. The Blue Jays? They haven’t played a series this big since Joe Carter faced Mitch Williams. The Yankees certainly need to win this series more than Toronto. They’re at a disadvantage going forward due to injury, general roster construction, and the standings. New York is 4-8 against the Jays this year, including 1-5 at Yankees Stadium. Gross.

What Have The Blue Jays Done Lately?

Believe it or not, the Blue Jays are actually in something of a slump right now. They just dropped two of three to the Red Sox and are 3-3 in their last six games. Of course, they’re also 26-9 since August 1st, so yeah. The Jays are 79-60 overall with baseball’s best run differential at +190. (The Cardinals are second at +122.) The Yankees are 1.5 games back in the AL East, which means they have to take at least three of four this weekend to come out of the series in first place. A split ain’t good enough at this point.

Offense & Defense

In terms of runs per game (5.47), the Blue Jays have baseball’s best offense since the 2009 Yankees (5.65). They’ve scored 760 runs this season, almost a hundred more than the second place team (Yankees at 671). This is a juggernaut offense. They have a team 114 wRC+. The gap between them and the No. 2 team (Dodgers at 107) is the same as the gap between No. 2 and No. 8 teams (several at 100). Just imagine if they had a healthy 2B Devon Travis (136 wRC+). He’s out with a shoulder problem.

Tulo. (Presswire)
Tulo. (Presswire)

Manager John Gibbons has apparently decided scoring runs is too easy, so he’s been batting OF Ben Revere (97 wRC+) leadoff instead of SS Troy Tulowitzki (99 wRC+). Tulo now hits fifth behind the Revere, 3B Josh Donaldson (162 wRC+), OF Jose Bautista (143 wRC+), and 1B Edwin Encarnacion (141 wRC+). Pretty much any one of those guys would be the best hitter on most other teams in baseball. The Blue Jays have all three in the lineup. Scary. Scary scary scary.

The rest of the Toronto lineup features C Russell Martin (106 wRC+), 2B Ryan Goins (84 wRC+), OF Kevin Pillar (83 wRC+), and the 1B Justin Smoak (103 wRC+) and 1B/OF Chris Colabello (151 wRC+) platoon. C Dioner Navarro (67 wRC+) will get some at-bats at DH, especially now that rosters have expanded and they have a third catcher. C Josh Thole (45 wRC+ in very limited time) is R.A. Dickey’s personal catcher. IF Cliff Pennington (45 wRC+) is the backup infielder. The crop of September call-ups includes UTIL Matt Hague, IF Munenori Kawasaki, OF Ezequiel Carrera, and OF Dalton Pompey. Pompey has been used as their pinch-running specialist.

The offense is mighty impressive, but the Blue Jays don’t get enough credit for being an excellent defensive club. Martin, Donaldson, Tulowitzki, and Pillar are all exception defensive players while Goins, Revere, Bautista, and Smoak are merely above-average. Encarnacion is the lone solidly below-average regular gloveman. This team can catch the ball. They’re not just a collection of meathead sluggers.

Pitching Matchups

Thursday (7pm ET): RHP Luis Severino (vs. TOR) vs. LHP David Price (vs. NYY)
The Blue Jays acquired Price for games like this, to beat the Yankees and help them win the AL East for the first time in two decades. The 30-year-old is in the middle of the best season of his career, pitching to a 2.43 ERA (2.88 FIP) in 28 starts and 196.1 innings. That includes a 2.15 ERA (2.33 FIP) in seven starts and 50.1 innings with the Blue Jays. Price’s strikeout (24.8%), walk (5.2%), and homer (0.73 HR/9) rates are all excellent, and while his grounder rate (40.5%) is below-average, it doesn’t matter because he generates so many weak pop-ups (10.9%). He has a slight reverse split (.290 vs. .268 wOBA in favor of lefties) that is atypical of the rest of his career. Price is a premium power pitcher, living in the mid-90s with a four-seamer and two-seamer, and a notch below that with his cutter. He throws some kind of fastball almost 70% of the time and he spots everything. Price pitches in and out, up and down, you name it. A mid-80s changeup has become his top secondary pitch, though he’ll still throw a few upper-70s breaking balls. The Yankees have seen Price three times this year. Once went great (eight runs in 2.1 innings), once went terribly (seven shutout innings), and once went okay (three runs in seven innings).

Friday (7pm ET): TBA vs. RHP Marco Estrada (vs. NYY)
Estrada, 32, has been found money for the Blue Jays. No one expected him to pitch this well. He owns a 3.18 ERA (4.28 FIP) in 147.1 innings spread across 23 starts and six relief appearances — Estrada started the season as the long man before moving into the rotation — despite unimpressive peripherals: 18.6 K%, 8.0 BB%, 32.2 GB%, and 1.10 HR/9. Nothing is even average there. Estrada has a tiny platoon split (.286 vs. 276 wOBA, advantage righties) thanks to his upper-70s changeup, which he’ll throw in any count to any batter. He sets the pitch up with an upper-80s four-seamer and will also mix in a few upper-70s curveballs. The Yankees have seen Estrada three times this year. They crushed him once (five runs in 4.2 innings), he dominated them once (6.1 scoreless innings), and the other game was kinda in between (two runs in six innings).

Stroman. (Presswire)
Stroman. (Presswire)

Saturday (1pm ET): TBA vs. RHP Marcus Stroman (vs. NYY)
The 24-year-old Stroman was expected to miss the entire season after tearing his ACL during a fielding drill in Spring Training, but his rehab went well, so the Blue Jays are activating him for the weekend. This will be his first start of the season. Stroman had a 3.65 ERA (2.84 FIP) in 130.2 innings across 20 starts and six relief appearances last summer, which was his first taste of the show. His strikeout rate (20.8%) was about average but he didn’t walk anyone (5.2%), kept the ball on the ground (53.8%), and gave up an unsustainably small number of homers (0.48 HR/9). He also had a tiny platoon split: .287 wOBA for lefties and .278 wOBA for righties. Stroman will throw six different pitches, but his mid-80s slider and changeup took a backseat to his low-to-mid-90s two and four-seamer, low-90s cutter, and low-80s curveball. This is his first start back following a long layoff, so who knows what to expect. With any luck, Stroman will be rusty. Rusty and overthrowing because he’s amped up in his first start back.

Sunday (1pm ET): TBA vs. RHP R.A. Dickey (vs. NYY)
The Blue Jays acquired Dickey to be their ace a few years ago and at this point it’s not even a guarantee he will be in their postseason rotation. The 40-year-old has a 4.01 ERA (4.58 FIP) in 29 starts and 188.2 innings this season, though he has been better the last few months, pitching to a 3.10 ERA (4.00 FIP) in 19 starts and 124.2 innings since June 1st. Dickey doesn’t strike hitters out (14.8%) and he doesn’t get ground balls (43.1%), which isn’t uncommon for knuckleballers. They tend to get weak fly balls. His walk rate is average (7.4%) and he’ll give up dingers (1.10 HR/9). Sometimes the knuckleball doesn’t knuckle and becomes a batting practice fastball. Again, he’s another guy with a small platoon split (.320 vs. .310 wOBA in favor of righties). Dickey throws his knucklepiece 85% of the time or so, and these days it resides in the mid-to-upper-70s. A show-me low-80s fastball is his other pitch. The Yankees have seen Dickey three times this season and managed to score three runs in 21.1 innings total. I’m looking forward to the possibility of “well the offense has struggled since facing the knuckleballer” excuses after this weekend.

The Yankees, meanwhile, have not yet announced their rotation for the weekend. Severino is starting tonight. That’s all we know. Adam Warren‘s lengthy relief out last night suggests they will keep everyone on turn, which would mean Ivan Nova on Friday, Michael Pineda on Saturday, and Masahiro Tanaka on Sunday. I know they want to give Tanaka extra rest whenever possible, but holy moly, it would be absolute madness to not start him on regular rest Sunday. Games like that are the reason they signed the guy.

Bullpen Status
The bullpen was once a weakness for Gibbons. That is no longer the case. They made some pickups at the trade deadline and called up some players to improve the relief crew. Rookie RHP Roberto Osuna (2.08 ERA/2.62 FIP) is the closer and RHP Aaron Sanchez (2.98/4.80) is now the setup man. Sanchez started the season in the rotation before moving back into a relief role. LHP Brett Cecil (3.00/3.03) is the primary southpaw.

Deadline additions RHP Mark Lowe (1.74/2.12) and RHP LaTroy Hawkins (2.86/3.09) have improved the middle innings situation. RHP Bo Schultz (3.27/4.84) and RHP Liam Hendriks (2.64/2.11) have also done solid work. RHP Steve Delabar, LHP Jeff Francis, LHP Aaron Loup, and RHP Ryan Tepera are the extra September arms. Loup, Delabar, Francis, Hendriks, Francis, and Schultz all pitched yesterday. The late-inning guys are rested.

Check out our Bullpen Workload page for the status of Joe Girardi‘s key relievers. Andrew Stoeten’s site is the place to go for the latest on the Blue Jays, though you are forewarned, the language is not family friendly.

Yankeemetrics: Payback north of the border (Aug. 14-16)

(AP)
(AP)

Streaks are made to be broken
So this is what it feels like to be in a pennant race, eh? The Yankees stunned the scorching-hot Blue Jays with a 4-3 comeback victory at the Rogers Centre on Friday night, ending Toronto’s 11-game win streak and jumping back into first place in the AL East.

For a while it looked like the Yankees might never score against the Blue Jays again (they had been shut out in each of their last two matchups) and the Blue Jays might never lose again. But then the eighth inning happened, when the Yankees rallied from down 3-0 to take the lead thanks to an RBI double from Chase Headley and a three-run homer from Carlos Beltran.

With one swing of the bat, Beltran became the first Yankee pinch-hitter to hit a go-ahead homer when trailing in eighth inning or later on the road since Don Mattingly on July 24, 1994 against the Angels. Perhaps even more amazing is that it was Beltran’s first homer on a pitch of at least 97 mph since August 9, 2008, when he got Matt Lindstrom.

Andrew Miller locked down the win with his 26th save of the season … But not before he made every Yankee fan hold their breath for the entirety of the near-eight-minute final at-bat, which ended on the 12th pitch when Miller struck out Troy Tulowitzki with runners on second and third.

How clutch was Miller’s strikeout? Since 1988 (as far back as we have reliable pitch data), Miller is the only pitcher in the majors with a game-ending strikeout in an at-bat lasting at least 12 pitches and the go-ahead run on base.

Second place is for losers
The Yankees made sure that they’d leave Canada as a first-place team, beating the Blue Jays on Saturday 4-1 to take a game and a half lead heading into the series finale.

Masahiro Tanaka called it “one of the most important games” he’s ever pitched in as a Yankee and he delivered like an ace, throwing a complete-game five-hitter with eight strikeouts. It was his fourth complete game as a Yankee — the same number that all other Yankee pitchers have combined for since his debut last season.

Before Tanaka’s gem, the last Yankee to get a complete-game victory against the Blue Jays with at least eight strikeouts and five hits or fewer allowed was Ron Guidry on September 28, 1978.

And finally, Brett Gardner ended another streak for the Yankees when he stole second base in the top of the ninth inning. That snapped a stretch of 19 games in a row without a stolen base by any Yankee, their longest drought on the basepaths since 1963.

Not-Lucky Luis
A sweep would have been nice, but winning two of three against the team you’re fighting for the division lead isn’t bad, right?

The Yankees dropped the series finale to the Blue Jays, 3-1, despite another impressive performance by Luis Severino in his third major-league start. Severino, who allowed three runs in six innings, became the youngest Yankee pitcher with at least nine strikeouts in a game since a 20-year-old Ray Keating on May 19, 1914 versus the St. Louis Browns.

He made a couple mistakes with his off-speed pitches but otherwise dominated the powerful Toronto lineup with his dazzling fastball. The Blue Jays went 0 for 14 with eight strikeouts in at-bats ending in Severino’s four-seamer.

However, the Yankees scored just one run to support him — they’ve scored just two runs in the 17 innings he’s been on the mound — and he once again failed to get his first career win. In the last 100 years, Severino and Dave Righetti (1979) are only Yankees with at least five innings pitched and no wins in each of their first three career games.

The Blue Jays have now held the Yankees to one run or fewer in seven of their 12 matchups in 2015. The only other teams in the Divisional Era (since 1969) to allow no more than one run in at least seven games against the Yankees in a season were the 1990 Athletics — who went 12-0 against the Yankees that year! — and the 1973 Red Sox. And the Yankees still seven more games to play against our neighbors north of the border …

8/14 to 8/16 Series Preview: Toronto Blue Jays

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

So this is a pretty huge series. The Yankees have already blown their comfortable-ish AL East lead and this weekend is a chance to get back atop the division. Winning two of three would do the trick. The Yankees are 2-7 against the Blue Jays this year — they’ve been outscored 36-17 in the nine games! — and it goes without saying a repeat of last weekend would be really, really, really bad. Three reallys.

What Have The Blue Jays Done Lately?

Win. Constantly. The Blue Jays are currently riding an eleven-game winning streak that has pushed them over the Yankees and into first place in the AL East. Well, sorta. The Jays have a half-game lead but the Yanks have one fewer loss. It’s complicated. Toronto is 64-52 with a +140 run differential overall. That’s the sixth best record and first best run differential in baseball.

Offense & Defense

The Blue Jays have baseball’s best offense and it’s not particularly close. They average 5.30 runs per game — the Yankees are still second at 4.80 runs per game despite their recent offensive struggles — with a team 114 wRC+, both the best marks in MLB. They’re an offensive juggernaut. Toronto is without 2B Devon Travis (shoulder), IF Maicer Izturis (shoulder), and OF Michael Saunders (knee), none of whom will return this series.

Donaldson. (Presswire)
Donaldson. (Presswire)

I said this last week and it’s worth repeating: the top of manager John Gibbons’ lineup reads like an All-Star Game lineup. SS Troy Tulowitzki (109 wRC+) leads off, 3B Josh Donaldson (154 wRC+) bats second, and RF Jose Bautista (139 wRC+) bats third. Crazy. Donaldson’s a legitimate MVP candidate and will probably win the award if the Blue Jays make the postseason, even if Mike Trout and the Angels do too. 1B Edwin Encarnacion (126 wRC+) is the usual cleanup hitter but he’s currently dealing with a finger problem and is day-to-day. He’s sat out the last few games.

The rest of the team’s regular lineup includes C Russell Martin (116 wRC+), OF Ben Revere (89 wRC+), OF Kevin Pillar (81 wRC+), and 2B Ryan Goins (70 wRC+). 1B Justin Smoak (105 wRC+) and 1B/OF Chris Colabello (143 wRC+) platoon at first base. C Dioner Navarro (67 wRC+) is the backup backstop and IF Cliff Pennington (58 wRC+) is the backup infielder. The Jays currently have a three-man bench but it is effectively a two-man bench as long as Encarnacion is banged up.

The Yankees and Blue Jays played just last weekend and Toronto’s roster is pretty much the same — Pennington replaced IF Munenori Kawasaki, which is basically a lateral move — so I’m going to save some time and just copy and paste the defense preview from last week:

In the field, Toronto has top notch defenders at short (Tulo), third (Donaldson), center (Pillar), and behind the plate (Martin). Bautista and Revere are good in the outfielder corners for different reasons — Bautista for his arm, Revere for his range — and Goins/Smoak is a solid right side of the infield. Obviously the offense gets most of the attention and deservedly so, but the Jays can field too.

So there you have it. The offense is clearly the star of the show but don’t sleep on the defense. The Blue Jays can catch the ball too. They are annoyingly well-rounded.

Pitching Matchups

Friday (7pm ET): RHP Ivan Nova (vs. TOR) vs. LHP David Price (vs. NYY)
Sigh. Too bad Price is starting for the Blue Jays down the stretch and not the Yankees. The 29-year-old has been off the charts this year, with a 2.35 ERA (2.99 FIP) in 23 starts and 161 innings for the Tigers and Jays. During his Cy Young year in 2012, Price had a 2.56 ERA (3.05 FIP), so yeah, he’s in the middle of the best season of his career. His strikeout (24.1%), walk (5.3%), and home run (0.78 HR/9) rates are excellent, but his ground ball rate (39.9%) is tiny, which is nothing new. Price has always been a weak fly ball guy. His platoon split is negligible (.277 vs. .275 wOBA in favor of righties). Price uses mid-90s two and four-seamers as well as an upper-80s cutter he back doors to righties. It’s unhittable. He’ll also throw a bunch of mid-80s changeups and a handful of upper-70s curves per start. The Yankees have seen Price twice this year. The first time went well (eight runs in 8.1 innings) and the second time did not (seven scoreless innings).

Saturday (1pm ET): RHP Masahiro Tanaka (vs. TOR) vs. RHP Marco Estrada (vs. NYY)
Estrada, 32, started the season as the long reliever before moving into the rotation, and he has a 3.21 ERA (3.80 FIP) in 117.2 innings spread across 18 starts and six relief appearances. His strikeout (19.1%), walk (7.7%), grounder (32.4%), and homer (0.84 HR/9) numbers are all below the league average, in some cases substantially so. Estrada has a slight reverse split (.285 vs. 273 wOBA in favor of righties) because he relies heavily on his upper-70s changeup. He sets it up with an upper-80s fastball and will also throw an upper-70s curveball. Finesse, not power. Estrada’s seen the Yankees twice this season, both times as a starter. He allowed five runs in 4.2 innings back in May and threw 6.1 scoreless innings last weekend.

Hutchison. (Presswire)
Hutchison. (Presswire)

Sunday (1pm ET): RHP Luis Severino (No vs. TOR) vs. RHP Drew Hutchison (vs. NYY)
The 24-year-old Hutchison started on Opening Day this year and has a 5.26 ERA (3.93 FIP) in 23 starts and 125 innings. His home/road split is incredible: Hutchison has a 2.68 ERA (2.90 FIP) in 74 innings at home this year and a 9.00 ERA (5.42 FIP) in 51 innings on the road. Geez. His strikeout (20.0%) and homer (1.01 HR/9) rates are average enough, his walk rate (7.1%) a tick better than average, and his grounder rate (39.3%) way below-average. Righties (.381 wOBA) have hit him a ton harder than lefties (.313 wOBA) this year, which is the exact opposite of what happened last season. Hutchison is a three-pitch pitcher, using a low-to-mid-90s heater to set up mid-80s sliders and changeups. He uses the slider twice as often as the changeup. The Yankees have seen Hutchison just once this year, back on Opening Day, and he held them to one run in six innings.

Bullpen Status
Earlier this season the bullpen was a big problem for the Blue Jays, but that isn’t the case anymore. They acquired RHP LaTroy Hawkins (2.89 ERA/3.14 FIP) and RHP Mark Lowe (1.60/2.19) at the trade deadline, and moved RHP Aaron Sanchez (3.21/4.76) back to the bullpen after having him start the year in the rotation. Sanchez was excellent as a reliever last year and has been excellent in that role again this year.

Hawkins, Lowe, and Sanchez join LHP Brett Cecil (3.68/3.43) as the setup crew tasked with getting the ball to rookie closer RHP Roberto Osuna (2.05/2.46). RHP Liam Hendriks (2.42/2.03), RHP Bo Schultz (2.18/3.92), and LHP Aaron Loup (5.05/3.89) are the club’s other relievers. It’s an eight-man bullpen at the moment. Osuna and Sanchez both pitched yesterday and have worked a lot recently — Osuna has pitched four of the last seven days and Sanchez has pitched four of the last six days. Other than that, the bullpen is fresh.

Check out our Bullpen Workload page for the status of Joe Girardi‘s heavily used bullpen. Then head over to Andrew Stoeten’s site for the latest and greatest on the Blue Jays. You are forewarned: the language is not exactly kid-friendly.