7/25-7/27 Series Preview: Toronto Blue Jays

So this is kind of a big series. The Yankees and Blue Jays are essentially tied in the standings and chasing the same AL East title/second wildcard spot. The Jays have lost 16 (!) consecutive games in Yankee Stadium dating back to 2012. That includes a three-game sweep earlier this year. The Yankees are 6-3 against Toronto overall this year.

What Have They Done Lately?
The Blue Jays just won three straight at home against the Red Sox and they’ve won five times in seven tries in the second half. At 54-49 with a +22 run differential, Toronto is percentage points behind the Yankees in standings. Like I said, big series.

Offense
Manager John Gibbons’ team averages 4.54 runs per game with a team 107 wRC+ this year, so they’ve been solidly above-average overall. Their lineup is decimated by injuries, however. 1B Edwin Encarnacion (161 wRC+), DH Adam Lind (142 wRC+), and 3B Brett Lawrie (96 wRC+) are currently on the disabled list with quad, foot, and finger injuries, respectively. None are expected back this weekend. IF Maicer Izturis, OF Nolan Reimold, and OF Cole Gillespie are hurt as well.

Reyes. (Getty)
Reyes. (Getty)

Even with all those injuries, Gibbons still trots out an upper third of the lineup with SS Jose Reyes (106 wRC+), OF Melky Cabrera (129 wRC+), and OF Jose Bautista (151 wRC+). Those three are as dangerous as it gets and the key to this weekend for New York is keeping them in check. The lineup really softens after that. OF Colby Rasmus (96 wRC+), C Dioner Navarro (88 wRC+), and the just called up DH Dan Johnson (93 wRC+ in very limited time) have been hitting in the middle third of the lineup, for example.

IF Juan Francisco (128 wRC+) has power as big as the holes in his swing. OF Anthony Gose (78 wRC+), IF Steve Tolleson (99 wRC+), IF Ryan Goins (33 wRC+ in limited time), and IF Munenori Kawasaki (78 wRC+) rotate in and out of the lineup on a daily basis. C Josh Thole (94 wRC+ in limited time) backs up Navarro and is on the roster primarily because he is knuckleballer R.A. Dickey’s personal catcher. They’ve been paired together since their days with the Mets. The Yankees are catching a huge break with Encarnacion, Lind, and Lawrie out.

Pitching Matchups

Friday: RHP Hiroki Kuroda (vs. TOR) vs. LHP Mark Buehrle (vs. NYY)
Buehrle was an All-Star for the first time in five years a few weeks ago thanks to his excellent start to the season. The 35-year-old has a 2.86 ERA (3.68 FIP) in 20 starts and 132.1 innings this year, and he’s been outperforming his FIP for about a decade now. No reason to think it’ll stop anytime soon. Buehrle’ strikeout (5.30 K/9 and 14.1 K%), walk (2.38 BB/9 and 6.3 BB%), and ground ball (40.9%) rates are the same as they always been, though his homer rate (0.61 HR/9 and 5.8 HR/FB%) is his lowest in a long, long time. It was lower earlier in the year and it’s started to correct in recent starts. Lefties (.327 wOBA) have hit Buehrle slightly harder than righties (.311 wOBA). As always, he works in the mid-80s with his four-seamer, two-seamer, and cutter, mixing in some upper-70s changeups and low-80s curves to keep hitters (even more) off balance. The Yankees have faced Buehrle twice this season, scoring three runs in six innings at Yankee Stadium and four runs in 6.2 innings at Rogers Centre, both back in June.

Saturday: RHP Shane Greene (No vs. TOR) vs. RHP Drew Hutchison (vs. NYY)
Hutchison, 23, has made 20 starts and thrown 113 innings this year, his first following Tommy John surgery. There’s been some talk of shutting him down or at least easing up on his working in the coming weeks. Hutchison has a 4.54 ERA (3.80 FIP) in those 20 starts with a very good strikeout rate (8.12 K/9 and 20.9 K%) and solid walk (3.03 BB/9 and 7.8 BB%) and homer (0.96 HR/9 and 8.2 HR/FB%) numbers, though he doesn’t get any grounders (34.9%). Lefties (.347 wOBA) have hit him a ton harder than righties (.299 wOBA), and it’s worth noting he’s been much better on the road (.279 wOBA) than at home (.407 wOBA). A low-90s fastball is Hutchison’s main pitch, and he throws it a lot, more than 60% of the time. Sliders and changeups in the mid-80s round out the repertoire. The Yankees have faced him three times this year and he’s been progressively better: six runs in 3.1 innings in April, four runs in 4.1 innings in mid-June, and four runs in six innings in late-June.

Still mad at Happ for hitting Curtis last spring. (Abelimages/Getty)
Still mad at Happ for hitting Curtis last spring. (Getty)

Sunday: RHP Chase Whitley (vs. TOR) vs. LHP J.A. Happ (vs. NYY)
These teams have played three series this year and yet somehow the Yankees have not seen Happ. The 31-year-old has a 4.55 ERA (4.18 FIP) in 83 innings across 14 starts and four relief appearances this year, with mostly mediocre peripherals: 7.37 K/9 (18.5 K%), 3.69 BB/9 (9.3 BB%), 0.98 HR/9 (8.9 HR/FB%), and 41.9% grounders. Happ’s platoon split is tiny. He throws a lot of fastballs, using his low-90s two and four-seamers more than 70% of the time combined. A mid-80s changeup is his top offspeed pitch and he’ll also mix in a few low-80s sliders and low-70s curveballs.

Bullpen Status
The Jays blew out the Red Sox yesterday and rookie righty Marcus Stroman went seven innings, so Gibbons was able to rest his key late-inning relievers. Only RHP Todd Redmond (3.05 FIP) and LHP Rob Rasmussen (4.96 FIP in limited time) pitched, and they threw an inning apiece. Closer RHP Casey Janssen (2.69 FIP) has pitched three times in the last five days, just not yesterday.

As they’ve been doing just about all year, the Jays are currently carrying eight relievers. RHP Dustin McGowan (5.02 FIP), LHP Brett Cecil (2.56 FIP), and LHP Aaron Loup (3.54 FIP) are Janssen’s primary setup crew these days. Top prospect RHP Aaron Sanchez (1.14 FIP in two innings) was just called up and will be given high-leverage work right away. They aren’t going to be shy with him. RHP Esmil Rogers (5.41 FIP) is the last guy in the ‘pen. Check out our Bullpen Workload page for the status of Joe Girardi‘s relievers, then check out Drunk Jays Fans for everything you need to know about the Blue Jays.

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6/23-6/25 Series Preview: Toronto Blue Jays

(Photo Credit: Flickr user James D. Schwartz via Creative Commons license)
(Photo Credit: Flickr user James D. Schwartz via Creative Commons license)

For the second time in a week, the Yankees and first place Blue Jays will meet for three games, only the scene shifts from the Bronx to Toronto. Much like last week, this series is pretty important by late-June standards. The Yankees could leave Canada in first place if things go well. They swept the Jays at home last week but lost two of three at Rogers Centre back in April.

What Have They Done Lately?
The Blue Jays lost two of three to the Reds in Cincinnati over the weekend, and they had to rally back from eight runs down for the one win. Toronto has lost eleven of their last 15 games overall and they come into the series 42-35 with a +25 run differential. They lead the Yankees (and Orioles) by 1.5 games in the AL East.

Offense
Manager John Gibbons watches over one of the best offenses in baseball, which averages 4.67 runs per game with a team 111 wRC+. They did lose both 3B Brett Lawrie (98 wRC+) and OF Jose Bautista (168 wRC+) to injury on Sunday, however. Lawrie had a finger broken by a Johnny Cueto pitch while Bautista left the game with a hamstring problem. He is having an MRI today to determine the extent of the damage. SS Jose Reyes (94 wRC+) is day-to-day with sore knee and IF Maicer Izturis (78 wRC+) is done for an extended period of time with a torn knee ligament. They’re pretty banged up.

The Melkman. (Mike Stobe/Getty)
The Melkman. (Mike Stobe/Getty)

Even with all those injuries, Gibbons can still build his lineup around the trio of OF Melky Cabrera (128 wRC+), 1B Edwin Encarnacion (159 wRC+) and DH Adam Lind (157 wRC+). Melky has a 19-game hitting streak against the Yankees and is hitting .346/.378/.679 with six homers during that stretch. 3B Juan Francisco (135 wRC+) has been good in a platoon role and OF Colby Rasmus (118 OPS+) just came off the DL last week. Francisco figures to see more playing time with Lawrie hurt.

The Jays are currently carrying three catchers in former Yankee C Dioner Navarro (79 wRC+), C Erik Kratz (73 wRC+), and C Josh Thole (91 wRC+ in limited time). Thole is basically R.A. Dickey’s personal catcher. That’s all. IF Munenori Kawasaki (53 wRC+) and UTIL Steve Tolleson (99 wRC+ in limited time) round out the bench. Toronto’s going to have to make at least one roster move today to replace Lawrie and may need to make another depending on Bautista’s test results.

Pitching Matchups
The Blue Jays are scheduled to start the same three pitchers this week that they started in New York last week thanks to a spot start over the weekend. Dickey had a minor groin injury, so they simply called up a sixth starter on Friday and pushed everyone back a day.

Monday: RHP Chase Whitley (vs. TOR) vs. RHP Marcus Stroman (vs. NYY)
Stroman, 23, has a 5.14 ERA (3.69 FIP) in 28 innings covering four starts and five relief appearances this season to start his MLB career, though his walk (1.93 BB/9 and 4.7 BB%) and ground ball (51.5%) rates are excellent. His strikeout (7.39 K/9 and 17.8 K%) and homer (0.96 HR/9 and 10.0 HR/FB%) numbers are closer to league average. Lefties (.419 wOBA) have hit him much harder than righties (.307 wOBA) so far. The Long Island raised Stroman uses a mid-90s four-seamer and a low-90s cutter to set up his mid-80s slider, mid-80s changeup, and low-80s curve. He held the Yankees to two runs last week, but they worked him hard and forced him to throw 98 pitches in only 3.2 innings.

Tuesday: RHP David Phelps (vs. TOR) vs. LHP Mark Buehrle (vs. NYY)
The 35-year-old Buehrle is off to a fantastic start (2.32 ERA and 3.45 FIP) that is due almost entirely to his miniscule homerun rate (0.45 HR/9 and 4.6 HR/FB%). His strikeout (5.27 K/9 and 14.3 K%), walk (2.50 BB/9 and 6.8 BB%), and ground ball (42.0%) rates are right in line with his career averages through 15 starts and 100.2 innings. Buehrle has no left/right split but he has been better on the road (.270 wOBA) than at home (.338 wOBA) this year. As always, he works in the mid-80s with his four-seamer, two-seamer, and cutter, mixing in some upper-70s changeups and low-80s curves to keep hitters (even more) off balance. Buehrle allowed three runs (two earned) in six innings against the Bombers last week.

Hutchison. (Mike Stobe/Getty)
Hutchison. (Mike Stobe/Getty)

Wednesday: RHP Hiroki Kuroda (vs. TOR) vs. RHP Drew Hutchison (vs. NYY)
Hutchison, 23, has been rock solid following his return from Tommy John surgery, posting a 3.86 ERA (3.90 FIP) in 15 starts and 86.1 innings. His strikeout (7.61 K/9 and 20.2 K%), walk (2.81 BB/9 and 7.5 BB%), homer (1.04 HR/9 and 9.3 HR/FB%), and ground ball (36.7%) numbers are all good. Not great but not awful either. Lefties (.328 wOBA) have been a bit more successful against the Hutchison than righties (.302 wOBA), though he’s been far better on the road (.266 wOBA) than at Rogers Centre (.439 wOBA). A low-90s fastball is his main pitch and he throws it a lot, more than 60% of the time. Sliders and changeups in the mid-80s round out the repertoire. The Yankees scored six runs in 3.1 innings off Hutchison back in April, then managed four runs in 4.1 innings against him last week.

Bullpen Status
Despite Dickey’s groin issue, he was able to give the team 7.2 innings in the losing effort yesterday. RHP Sergio Santos (5.04 FIP) was the only reliever used and he threw all of two pitches. Gibbons’ bullpen is pretty fresh. RHP Casey Janssen (1.68 FIP) is the closer, and with LHP Brett Cecil (2.28 FIP) on the disabled list, LHP Aaron Loup (3.31 FIP) is the primary late-inning lefty.

The rest of the bullpen includes RHP Chad Jenkins (4.77 FIP), RHP Dustin McGowan (4.65 FIP), RHP Todd Redmond (3.16 FIP), and LHP Rob Rasmussen (5.08 FIP in limited time). There really aren’t any clearly defined roles at this point outside of Janssen in the ninth. Gibbons just sorta rides the hot hand in the late innings. You can check up on the Yankees’ bullpen at our Bullpen Workload page, and for everything you need to know about the Blue Jays, head over to Drunk Jays Fans.

Update (2:15pm): The Blue Jays officially placed Lawrie on the 15-day DL and sent Kratz to Triple-A. OF Anthony Gose and OF Kevin Pillar were called up in corresponding moves. No word on Bautista’s test results just yet, but the fact that they called up two outfielders suggests he will miss a few games.

6/17-6/19 Series Preview: Toronto Blue Jays

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

The Yankees are home from their nine-game road trip and will play their biggest series of the season (to date) starting tonight. The first place Blue Jays are in the Bronx for a three-game series, giving the Yankees a chance to make up some ground in the AL East race. The alternative is getting buried. The Bombers took two of three in Toronto back in April.

What Have They Done Lately?
The Jays went on an insane run last month, winning 20 of 24 games at one point. They’ve since lost six of nine, including two against the Orioles this past weekend. Toronto comes into the series with a 41-30 record and a +39 run differential. They are 4.5 games up on the Yankees.

Offense
The Blue Jays have one of the very best offenses in all of baseball. They average 4.70 runs per game with a team 112 wRC+, and they currently lead baseball with 92 homers. The Yankees have hit 55, by comparison. Toronto is currently without OF Colby Rasmus (105 wRC+), DH Adam Lind (155 wRC+), and IF Maicer Izturis (78 wRC+) due to injury. Rasmus (hamstring) could be activated off the disabled list this week and Lind (foot) is only day-to-day with a bruise. Izturis (knee) is out long-term.

(Rob Carr/Getty)
(Rob Carr/Getty)

Manager John Gibbons builds his lineup around baseball’s best three-four hitter combination: OF Jose Bautista (173 wRC+) and 1B Edwin Encarnacion (152 wRC+). They have 35 homers, 70 extra-base hits, 86 walks, and 91 strikeouts combined. SS Jose Reyes (105 wRC+) leads off and former Yankee OF Melky Cabrera (119 wRC+) gets the cushy job of batting second between Reyes and Bautista. Add in a healthy Lind and the top five of the Toronto lineup is devastating. I remember when the Yankees had a lineup like that.

3B Brett Lawrie (92 wRC+) headlines the rest of the lineup, and he has been spending some time at second base so 3B Juan Francisco (135 wRC+) and his huge lefty power can play against righties. OF Anthony Gose (89 wRC+) has been playing center while Rasmus is out and IF Steve Tolleson (122 wRC+ in limited time) is the backup infielder. Yes, he is Wayne’s son. The Jays are currently carrying three catchers — former Yankee C Dioner Navarro (83 wRC+), former Met C Josh Thole (106 wRC+ in limited time), and C Erik Kratz (80 wRC+) — for whatever reason.

Pitching Matchups

Tuesday: RHP Masahiro Tanaka (vs. TOR) vs. RHP Marcus Stroman (No vs. NYY)
Stroman, 23, was the 22nd overall pick in the 2012 draft and he zoomed to the big leagues in less than two years. He has a 5.18 ERA (3.04 FIP) in 24.1 innings spread across three starts and five relief appearances so far, and both his walk (1.11 BB/9 and 2.7 BB%) and ground ball (56.0%) rates are excellent. Stroman has also kept the ball in the park (0.74 HR/9 and 7.7 HR/FB%) and kept righties in check (.303 wOBA), though lefties have crushed him (.426 wOBA) and his strikeout rate isn’t anything special (7.77 K/9 and 18.9 K%). A mid-90s four-seamer is his main offering and he uses it a lot, nearly 60% of the time. Stroman also throws a low-90s cutter, mid-80s sliders and changeups, and a low-80s curve. He’s a tiny little guy at 5-foot-9 and 185 lbs., but he’s got a huge arm.

Wednesday: RHP Chase Whitley (No vs. TOR) vs. LHP Mark Buehrle (vs. NYY)
The 35-year-old Buehrle is currently in the middle of his best big league season, pitching to a 2.28 ERA (3.36 FIP) in 14 starts and 94.2 innings. His strikeout (5.23 K/9 and 14.2 K%) and ground ball (43.3%) rates are right in line with the rest of his career, but Buehrle has enjoyed an exceptionally low homerun rate so far (0.38 HR/9 and 4.0 HR/FB%). I can’t imagine that’ll stick given his division and home park. Buehrle is walking a career high number of batters (2.47 BB/9 and 6.7 BB%) and righties (.315 wOBA) are having some more luck against him than lefties (.273 wOBA). As always, Buehrle works in the mid-80s with his four-seamer, two-seamer, and cutter combination, mixing in some upper-70s changeups and low-80s curves. His current four-seam fastball average velocity (83.6 mph) is the lowest by a non-knuckleballer, non-Jamie Moyer pitcher during the PitchFX era.

Hutchison. (Jim Rogash/Getty)
Hutchison. (Jim Rogash/Getty)

Thursday: RHP David Phelps (vs. TOR) vs. RHP Drew Hutchison (vs. NYY)
Hutchison, 23, missed all of last season due to Tommy John surgery. He’s come back well, with a 3.62 ERA (3.88 FIP) in 14 starts and 82 innings so far this year. His peripherals — 7.68 K/9 (20.6 K%), 2.52 BB/9 (6.8 BB%), 1.10 HR/9 (9.5 HR/FB%), and 36.5% grounders — are solid but unspectacular across the board. He doesn’t have much of a platoon split at all, but it’s worth noting Hutchison has been far better on the road (.254 wOBA) than at home (.439) this season. A low-90s fastball is his bread and butter and he throws it a ton, more than 60% of the time. Mid-80s sliders and changeups round out the repertoire. The Yankees roughed Hutchison up for six runs in 3.1 innings back in April.

Bullpen Status
Like the Yankees, the Blue Jays were off yesterday, so both bullpens are pretty well rested coming into the series. Closer RHP Casey Janssen (1.73 FIP) anchors a relief crew that also includes setup men RHP Sergio Santos (5.75 FIP in limited time) and RHP Steve Delabar (5.24 FIP). LHP Brett Cecil (2.15 FIP) is currently dealing with a nagging groin issue and could be headed for the disabled list.

If Cecil does wind up on the shelf, Gibbons still has a solid southpaw in LHP Aaron Loup (3.37 FIP). He’s one of those classic funky delivery, low arm slot guys. RHP Todd Redmond (2.91 FIP) is the long man while RHP Dustin McGowan (4.70 FIP) and RHP Chad Jenkins (5.17 FIP) handle the middle innings. You can check up on the Yankees’ bullpen at our Bullpen Workload page. For everything you need to know about the Blue Jays, head over to Drunk Jays Fans.

The very flawed and wide open AL East

In case you haven’t noticed, the AL East is a dumpster fire this season. Here are the standings before we go any further:

AL East standings 050814

Yuck. All five teams are clustered together in mediocrity. Dan Syzmborski posted his updated ZiPS division projections yesterday based on what has already happened this year, and the system has the Blue Jays in last place at 80-82. It also has the other four AL East teams tied for first at 83-79. Keep in mind that’s not a prediction of what will happen, it’s just an estimate of each team’s talent level. Point is, the division is crazy close.

As we’ve seen the last few weeks, the Yankees are no doubt a flawed team. They need another starting pitcher and another infielder, and another bullpen arm wouldn’t hurt either. Playing better defense would help too. More than anything, they need players like Carlos Beltran, Derek Jeter, Brian McCann, and CC Sabathia to improve their performance going forward.

The Yankees are a flawed team and that’s okay because the other four AL East teams are flawed too. We’ve learned a lot these last five weeks. Here’s what we know about the division a little more than one month into the season.

BALTIMORE ORIOLES
Overall Batting: 94 wRC+ (17th in MLB) and 4.32 R/G (9th)
Overall Rotation: 4.42 ERA (24th) and 4.32 FIP (25th)
Overall Bullpen: 3.81 ERA (16th) and 4.38 FIP (27th)
Defensive Efficiency: .683 (29th)

Machado. (Presswire)
Machado. (Presswire)

The O’s went into the offseason needing a starter and they still need a starter. Ubaldo Jimenez (5.19 ERA and 4.83 FIP) has not worked out so far — turns out making a bunch of starts against the Astros, White Sox, and Twins late last year didn’t mean he had turned his career around — and the Miguel Gonzalez (5.28 ERA and 4.86 FIP) magic has finally worn off. Bud Norris, Chris Tillman, and Wei-Yin Chen are solid but nothing more. The middle relief unit is also a mess, though the trio of Tommy Hunter, Zach Britton, and Darren O’Day have been outstanding. The other four guys are the problem. Now that Manny Machado is back and Chris Davis (oblique) will soon come off the DL, Baltimore will out-hit many of their pitching problems this summer. That strategy can work, we saw the Yankees do it from 2005-07. They do lack high on-base players to fully capitalize on their power, however.

BOSTON RED SOX
Overall Batting: 100 wRC+ (13th) and 4.15 R/G (16th)
Overall Rotation: 3.85 ERA (15th) and 3.83 FIP (14th)
Overall Bullpen: 3.14 ERA (9th) and 2.91 FIP (3rd)
Defensive Efficiency: .693 (22nd)

On paper, the Red Sox are the most complete team in the division. They’re average or better in every phase of the game, including defensively now that Shane Victorino (hamstring) is off the DL and Jackie Bradley Jr. has replaced Grady Sizemore as the regular center fielder. Bradley and A.J. Pierzynski are the lineup weak spots, Edward Mujica and Craig Breslow the bullpen laggers, and Felix Doubront the rotation drain. Jake Peavy’s walk and homer problems suggest he might perform worse going forward as well (3.09 ERA and 5.07 FIP). Otherwise Boston has productive players in just about every roster spot, a deep farm system, and a pretty big wallet. If they need help, they can go out and get almost anyone they want. The Red Sox are not as good as they were last year, nor are they as bad as they were for the first few weeks of this season.

New York Yankees
Overall Batting: 101 wRC+ (12th) and 4.27 R/G (10th)
Overall Rotation: 4.27 ERA (22th) and 3.88 FIP (16th)
Overall Bullpen: 3.91 ERA (19th) and 3.52 FIP (12th)
Defensive Efficiency: .690 (25th)

Outside of Masahiro Tanaka, the Yankees have not had another reliable starter all season. Maybe Hiroki Kuroda will be that guy after his very good start against the Angels earlier this week and maybe Michael Pineda will be another one when he returns from his shoulder muscle problem. The back of the bullpen has been excellent. The lineup is being held back because of several underperformers, specifically Beltran and McCann. The Yankees have a ton of money, it’s just a question of how willing ownership is to use it to add players at midseason. The farm system is improving but it still remains to be seen whether other teams want some of their prospects in trades. But you knew all that already.

TAMPA BAY RAYS
Overall Batting: 108 wRC+ (7th) and 4.24 R/G (11th)
Overall Rotation: 4.44 ERA (25th) and 3.76 FIP (11th)
Overall Bullpen: 4.17 ERA (23rd) and 4.23 FIP (22nd)
Defensive Efficiency: .701 (18th)

For the first time in a long time, the Rays have serious pitching problems. Matt Moore is lost for the year with Tommy John surgery, and both Jeremy Hellickson (elbow) and Alex Cobb (oblique) are still weeks away from returning to the rotation. They’ve been stuck relying on Erik Bedard, Jake Odorizzi, and Cesar Ramos to make starts. Those guys wouldn’t be anywhere near their pitching staff the last couple of seasons. The offense is fine but the bullpen is weak because it’s been worked hard thanks to the shaky rotation, though replacing Heath Bell with Brad Boxberger will help somewhat. Unlike the other teams in the division, Tampa doesn’t really have the financial wherewithal (or the prospects, at this point) to go out and make a trade to improve their weakness. They’re just trying to get by until Hellickson and Cobb return, hoping they’ll be the difference makers.

Imagine Dioner Navarro being your biggest offseason move. (Abelimages/Getty)
Imagine Dioner Navarro being your biggest offseason move. (Abelimages/Getty)

TORONTO BLUE JAYS
Overall Batting: 111 wRC+ (4th) and 4.88 R/G (5th)
Overall Rotation: 4.04 ERA (19th) and 3.75 FIP (10th)
Overall Bullpen: 4.94 ERA (27th) and 4.23 FIP (23rd)
Defensive Efficiency: .692 (24th)

You didn’t need the updated ZiPS projections to tell you Toronto is the weakest team in the division. They have a top heavy lineup with several black holes (second and third bases, in particular), one and a half starters (Mark Buehrle and Drew Hutchison, maybe R.A. Dickey on a good day), and a disaster of a bullpen. They gutted the farm system last offseason and are reportedly up against their payroll limit. Money is so tight that several players offered to deferred salary this winter if it helped the team sign then-free agent Ervin Santana. That blows my mind. In a division of flawed teams, the Jays have the most and biggest holes. That doesn’t mean they can’t make life miserable this season though. They’re always a pain.

* * *

The AL East has been the best division in baseball over the last 15 years or so, and I don’t even think it was close. At first it was just the Yankees and Red Sox, then the Rays got in on the fun, then two years ago the Orioles started making noise.

Instead of evolving into a division of powerhouses, it’s currently a division of mediocrity. It’s a collection of good but not great teams right now. The opportunity is there for any one of the five clubs to run away with the division but right now no one seems to want it. A blockbuster trade or unexpected development (like, say, a prospect coming up and having immediate impact) could decide the AL East.

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

(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.

2014 Season Preview: The AL East

Over the last 15-20 years or so, no division has been as consistently tough as the AL East. The Yankees and Red Sox have dominated the top two spots, and in recent years both the Rays and Orioles have become more serious threats. The AL East has produced 15 of the 21 AL wildcard teams since the system was introduced in 1995, giving you an idea of how many great teams it’s housed. How is the division competition looking heading into 2014? Here’s a breakdown.

Ubaldo. (Presswire)
Ubaldo. (Presswire)

BALTIMORE ORIOLES
Notable Additions: RHP Ubaldo Jimenez, OF Nelson Cruz, RHP Ryan Webb, RHP Suk-Min Yoon, OF/DH Delmon Young
Notable Losses: RHP Scott Feldman, RHP Jason Hammel, RHP Jim Johnson, OF Nate McLouth

This isn’t a loss in the sense that he was on the team and now he’s not, but it’s certainly worth mentioning that third baseman Manny Machado will start the season on the DL following offseason knee surgery. He should return sometime in April.

The Orioles played the market well and landed both Jimenez and Cruz on favorable contracts. They sorely lacked an ace and while Ubaldo might be the most unpredictable pitcher in the game, he can be absolutely dominant for long stretches of time. Baltimore got a weak .245/.293/.405 (87 wRC+) batting line out of their DHs last season, so Cruz and even Young should help correct that problem. Between Cruz, Chris Davis, and Adam Jones, the O’s have three guys who could legitimately hit 30+ homers. They hit 24 more homeruns than any other team last season and added yet another power hitter this winter.

Even though Johnson always seems to blow games against the Yankees — he blew four of his last nine save chances against them and also took a loss after entering a tie game — the Orioles are worse off in the late innings without him. Webb is underrated and I’m sure Tommy Hunter will be fine in the ninth inning, but Johnson was a very good workhorse reliever and that will be missed. Baltimore is better than they were last season because of Jimenez and Cruz, though I’m not sure if they’re good enough to make a serious run at a wildcard spot. I guess it depends on how long Machado is out, which Jimenez shows up, and how the bullpen shakes out without Johnson.

BOSTON RED SOX
Notable Additions: RHP Burke Badenhop, LHP Chris Capuano, RHP Edward Mujica, C A.J. Pierzynski
Notable Losses: RHP Ryan Dempster, SS Stephen Drew, OF Jacoby Ellsbury, C Jarrod Saltalamacchia

I assume the Red Sox will not re-sign Drew at this point, which means they lost three key up-the-middle position players this winter. Grady Sizemore has had a great spring, but replacing Ellsbury with him is the poor man’s version of replacing Robinson Cano with Brian Roberts. Jackie Bradley Jr., last spring’s MVP, is the backup plan there. Pierzynski takes over for Salty, and rookie Xander Bogaerts will replace Drew. He’s a stud and appears poised to be a force for years to come.

Boston has earned some leeway after winning the World Series, but they lost a lot of good players this winter and are counting mostly on internal solutions to replace the lost production. That’s dicey, especially when talking about prospects. If Bogaerts or either of the center fielders don’t produce, the Sox will be left scrambling. Luckily for them, the pitching staff is deep and stalwarts like Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz are still around to anchor the lineup. The Red Sox have a great farm system and a ton of money, so they have the wherewithal to address any needs at midseason. That said, they won the division by 5.5 games last year and the gap appears to have closed a bit.

TAMPA BAY RAYS
Notable Additions: RHP Grant Balfour, RHP Heath Bell, C Ryan Hanigan
Notable Losses: RHP Roberto Hernandez, RHP Fernando Rodney, DH Luke Scott, RHP Jamey Wright

Old face, old place. (Presswire)
Old face, old place. (Presswire)

The Rays will be without Jeremy Hellickson for a few weeks following offseason elbow surgery. They still have David Price and Alex Cobb to front the rotation, but Matt Moore is having a real problem throwing strikes this spring. Like 15 walks in 14.1 innings problem. Chris Archer had a strong rookie season and rookie Jake Odorizzi will replace Hellickson for the time being. Tampa always seems to crank out quality young starters, but with Moore struggling and Odorizzi projecting as more of a back-end arm than anything else, their staff seems more vulnerable than it has been at any point in the last five of six years.

After getting great production from one-year gems like Casey Kotchman and Jeff Keppinger, the Rays doubled down on James Loney and re-signed him to a three-year, $21M contract this offseason. That is the largest free agent contract the team had handed out since the current ownership group took over in 2005. Full seasons of Wil Myers and David DeJesus should boost an offense — DeJesus isn’t great, but remember, he’s replacing Sam Fuld — that ranked third in baseball with a 108 wRC+ last summer. Going from Rodney and Wright to Balfour and Bell is probably an upgrade, especially in terms in 2014 performance. Rodney and Wright are 37 and 39, after all. Tampa improved this winter after winning 92 games a wildcard spot a year ago, so of course they’ll be right back in the thick of the race this year.

TORONTO BLUE JAYS
Notable Additions: C Dioner Navarro
Notable Losses: C J.P. Arencibia, OF Rajai Davis, RHP Josh Johnson

It’s unbelievable the Blue Jays did nothing this winter, isn’t it? They made all those moves last offseason and were such a colossal disappointment in 2013, yet nothing. They signed Navarro, who was nearly out of baseball three years ago. GM Alex Anthopoulos appeared to be playing the board a bit with the pitching market, presumably hoping to grab Jimenez or Ervin Santana on a cheap contract, but instead came up empty. The rotation includes the reliable Mark Buehrle and R.A. Dickey, the unpredictable Brandon Morrow, J.A. Happ, and righty Drew Hutchison fresh off Tommy John surgery.

I guess the good news for Toronto is that their offense is dynamite, at least when healthy. Edwin Encarnacion might be the most unheralded great hitter in the game (82 BB, 66 XBH, 62 K in 2013) and Jose Bautista is still a force, so the middle of the order is set. Colby Rasmus has a ton of power and others like Melky Cabrera, Adam Lind, and Brett Lawrie will contribute from time to time. Jose Reyes is dynamic but also prone to injury, and sure enough an MRI revealed a minor hamstring strain just yesterday. He might not be ready for the start of the season. Ryan Goins, who is slated to be the regular second baseman, will move over to replace Reyes to short if need be. He might be the worst everyday player in baseball. In the conversation, at least. The Blue Jays are banking on health and steps forward from guys like Hutchison and Rasmus to improve the team, and even if they get that, they still might only be the fourth or fifth best team in the division.

* * *

On paper, I think you can argue the Yankees are anywhere from the best to fourth best team in the division. They’ve obviously upgraded but so have the Rays and Orioles, all while the Red Sox lost some key pieces. The top four teams in the division are more scrunched together this season, which means the race will be more tougher and more exciting deep into the season. Injuries and unexpected performances, both good and bad, will play an even bigger role in determining the AL East this summer. The division is again very good and there are four teams to be reckoned with. (Sorry, Blue Jays.)

9/17-9/19 Series Preview: Toronto Blue Jays

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Once upon a time, it looked like this series would play a huge role in the AL East race. The Blue Jays were offseason darlings and the Yankees are pretty much always in contention, so back in Spring Training it seemed like a late-season series between the two clubs would have a huge impact on the division. Instead, Toronto sits in last place and New York has already been relegated to wildcard or bust.

What Have They Done Lately?
The Jays were off yesterday just like the Yankees. They lost two of three to the Orioles over the weekend and have lost five of their last six games overall. Toronto is 68-81 with a -47 run differential, both the fifth worst marks in the league. Their next loss officially eliminates them from postseason contention.

Offense
At 4.4 runs per game with a team 98 wRC+, the Blue Jays are almost an exactly league average offense. They are without RF Jose Bautista (133 wRC+), IF Maicer Izturis (63 wRC+), and LF Melky Cabrera (86 wRC+) though, all of whom are out for the season with injury. CF Colby Rasmus (126 wRC+) recently came off the DL but is being eased back into things.

(REUTERS/Mike Cassese)
(REUTERS/Mike Cassese)

Manager John Gibbons has an elite power hitter in the middle of his lineup in 1B Edwin Encarnacion (144 wRC+). He still has more walks (82) and extra-base hits (66) than strikeouts (62). SS Jose Reyes (114 wRC+) is still as good as it gets in the leadoff spot and DH Adam Lind (127 wRC+) has had a strong bounceback year. 3B Brett Lawrie (95 wRC+) has been okay, as has UTIL Mark DeRosa (98 wRC+) in a reserve role. The lineup is pretty thinned out without Bautista and Rasmus.

C J.P. Arencibia (61 wRC+), OF Rajai Davis (84 wRC+), and IF Munenori Kawasaki (76 wRC+) are probably the only other guys on the roster everyone will recognize. OF Moises Sierra (152 wRC+ in very limited time) and 2B Ryan Goins (51 wRC+ in very limited time) both play regularly thanks to the injuries. CF Anthony Gose (76 wRC+ in limited time) and C Josh Thole (26 wRC+) are regulars on the bench while the crop of September call-ups include C Mike Nickeas and OF Kevin Pillar. Reyes and Encarnacion make this lineup dangerous by themselves, but the bottom of the order is really weak.

Starting Pitching Matchups

Tuesday: LHP Andy Pettitte vs. RHP R.A Dickey
Dickey, 38, has a 4.36 ERA (4.65 FIP) in 31 starts this season after taking home the NL Cy Young Award last summer. Can’t imagine that’s what the Blue Jays thought they were getting when they made the trade over the winter. Dickey’s peripherals have declined across the board: 6.89 K/9 (18.1 K%), 2.98 BB/9 (7.8 BB%), 1.38 HR/9 (12.4% HR/FB), and 40.8% grounders. he uses just one mid-70s knuckleball these days, having apparently lost the second low-80s knuckler that made him so effective last year. A low-80s fastball is his get-me-over-pitch. Lefties (.341 wOBA) have hit him harder than righties (.308 wOBA). The Yankees have faced Dickey a few times this season and he’s actually pitched quite well against them. He hasn’t dominated, but he hasn’t been a pushover either.

Happ. (Abelimages/Getty)
Happ. (Abelimages/Getty)

Wednesday: RHP Phil Hughes vs. LHP J.A. Happ
The 30-year-old Happ was carted off the field after taking a line drive to the side of the head and suffering a very small skull fracture (and knee strain) four months ago. He’s made eight starts since returning from the DL and has pitched well in half of them, and overall he owns 5.15 ERA (4.14 FIP). The southpaw has missed enough bats (7.49 K/9 and 18.3 K%) and kept the ball in the park (0.98 HR/9 and 7.9% HR/FB), but his walk (4.66 BB/9 and 11.4 BB%) and ground ball (37.9%) rates are well-below-average. Happ is a five-pitch guy, sitting right around 90 mph with both his two and four-seamer. Both his slider and changeup come in in the low-80s, his curveball in the mid-70s. The Yankees have seen Happ three times this year and have hit him hard twice.

Thursday: RHP Hiroki Kuroda vs. RHP Todd Redmond
Redmond, 28, has a 4.10 ERA (4.19FIP) in eleven starts and three relief appearances this year as injuries have thinned out Toronto’s rotation. His strikeout (9.33 K/9 and 24.8 K%) and walk (2.69 BB/9 and 7.1 BB%) rates are stellar while the homer (1.41 HR/9 and 11.8% HR/FB) and ground ball (31.0%) numbers are underwhelming. Redmond uses sinkers and four-seamers right around 90 mph to setup his bread-and-butter low-80s slider. He uses the slider almost three out of every ten pitches. Low-80s changeups and upper-70s curveballs are his rarely-used fourth and fifth offerings. Redmond held the Yankees to two runs in 5.2 innings late last month, the only time he’s faced them.

Janssen. (Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
Janssen. (Getty)

Bullpen Status
Like I said, the Blue Jays were off yesterday, so their bullpen is well-rested. Closer RHP Casey Janssen (2.96 FIP) is setup by RHP Steve Delabar (2.72 FIP), LHP Brett Cecil (2.88 FIP), RHP Sergio Santos (2.47 FIP in limited time), and LHP Darren Oliver (4.23 FIP). LHP Aaron Loup (3.28 FIP) and RHP Neil Wagner (4.21 FIP) handle the middle innings. The army of September call-ups includes RHP Kyle Drabek, RHP Jeremy Jeffress, RHP Chad Jenkins, RHP Dustin McGowan, LHP Luis Perez, and LHP Ricky Romero. Yes, that Ricky Romero.

The Yankees are in good bullpen shape and not just because of the off-day. The late-game trio of Mariano Rivera, David Robertson, and Shawn Kelley did not pitch at all this weekend and should be very well-rested. Boone Logan is still out with his elbow problem, however. Our Bullpen Workload page has the full recent reliever usage details. Check out Drunk Jays Fans and Tao of Stieb for the latest and greatest on the Blue Jays.