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

(AP Photo/Gail Burton)
(AP Photo/Gail Burton)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Starting Pitching Matchups

(Brad White/Getty)
(Brad White/Getty)

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)
(Rob Carr/Getty)

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

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

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Blue Jays claim Eli Whiteside off waivers

Via Ken Rosenthal: The Blue Jays have claimed Eli Whiteside off waivers from the Yankees. New York claimed the backstop off waivers from the Giants a few weeks ago, then re-signed him to a new $625k split contract about a week ago. The Yankees designated him for assignment to clear a 40-man roster spot for the recently-re-signed Andy Pettitte. Toronto assumes Whiteside’s entire contract with the move.

Thoughts following the Jays-Marlins blockbuster

Shoulda held out for a no-trade clause, Jose. (Dilip Vishwanat/Getty)

The baseball world still seems to be reeling from the not-yet-completed Marlins-Blue Jays blockbuster. Players still have to take physicals and stuff, so it might be a week or so until this thing is final. Between this and the Dodgers-Red Sox blockbuster, these last four months have featured some insanely massive and historic trades.

1. The Marlins are such an embarrassment to baseball. At least they won the World Series immediately prior to their two other firesales, this time all they had was a publicly funding stadium. Seriously, they received $409M in public funding (on what was apparently false pretense) that will cost the city $2.4 billion (!) to pay off over the next 40 years. The Yankees pulled the same kinda public funding nonsense with their new building, but at least they field a competitive team year after year and generate a ton of revenue for themselves, the league, the city, etc. Could you imagine being a fan of that team right now? The Marlins are frauds and owner Jeff Loria is a crook. I say contract ‘em and sell the stadium for scrap.

2. The Blue Jays, meanwhile, are suddenly pretty good. This trade alone isn’t enough to take them from 73 wins to 90+ wins and a division title — I feel like not enough people are talking about how bad of an idea it is for Jose Reyes to play 81 games a year on turf — but it sure will help. They need some of the guys they lost to injury this year (Jose Bautista and Brandon Morrow, specifically) to stay healthy and for Ricky Romero to #unsuck to really make a run at the AL East crown. Division titles aren’t won in November and December, Yankees fans should know that by now. Toronto always played the Yankees tough though, and this trade is going to make those games even tougher. Sucks.

3. If you were holding out hope that Alex Rodriguez would be traded to the Marlins this winter, you can forget it now. He’s not waiving his no-trade clause to go to that mess no matter how close the team is to his home. Moving him and his contract was a very long shot to start with, and now this latest Marlins firesale takes the most likely suitor out of play. A-Rod‘s here to stay, like it or not.

4. I know it’s coming and yes, of course the Yankees should look into acquiring Giancarlo Stanton. He’s obviously not happy …

… so bring him to New York and make him happy. What should they give up? Frankly I don’t care, give them whatever they want. I mean, could the Yankees really say no to Mason Williams, Slade Heathcott, and Gary Sanchez for Stanton? No way. Stanton is ten months older than Heathcott for cryin’ out loud. He’s 20 months older than Williams and already has 93 career homers to his credit. He’s a franchise player the Yankees should go all out to acquire if he’s truly available, which I doubt he is just yet. The Marlins need someone to sell tickets next year and he’ll be the guy as long as he’s making the league minimum-ish, which he will next year. Come his first arbitration raise next winter — homers pay huge in arbitration, Prince Fielder pulled down $7M his first time through with 114 career homers and no major awards — all bets are off.

Blue Jays & Marlins swing ten-ish player blockbuster

The Blue Jays and Marlins are on the verge of completing a monster ten-ish player blockbuster that will send Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, Jose Reyes, John Buck, and Emilio Bonifacio to Toronto for Henderson Alvarez, Yunel Escobar, and various prospects. The deal is not official yet and reports are still trickling in about who those various prospects actually are, so I suggest checking out MLBTR every so often until this thing is finalized.

Toronto lost 89 games and a ton of players to injury last year, but this trade obviously improves their outlook for next season. We have all winter to analyze this deal and how it relates to the Yankees, but for now here’s a thread to discuss this monstrosity.

Yankees claim David Herndon off waivers from Blue Jays

Via MLBTR: The Yankees have claimed right-handed reliever David Herndon off waivers from the Blue Jays. The 27-year-old had Tommy John surgery in June and won’t return until the middle of next season.

Herndon has been a solid middle reliever for the Phillies over the last three years, pitching to a 3.85 ERA (4.27 FIP) in 117 innings. He’s a ground ball guy (44.3%) with unspectacular walk (3.23 BB/9 and 8.3 BB%) and strikeout (5.85 K/9 and 15.0 K%) rates. Philadelphia plucked him from the Angels in the 2009 Rule 5 Draft, and from what I can tell he has at least one and possibly two minor league options remaining. Extra bullpen depth is never a bad thing.

Blue Jays claim Cory Wade off waivers from Yankees

The Blue Jays have claimed Cory Wade off waivers from the Yankees, the team announced. New York designated the right-hander for assignment last week. The 29-year-old Wade pitched very well for the Yankees after being signed off the scrap heap last season up until about his past June, when everything fell apart. I was a fan and hoped he would be able to figure things out, but alas.

9/27-9/30 Series Preview: Toronto Blue Jays

(Winslow Townson/Getty)

The Yankees and Blue Jays have already played four series in the second half, which includes nine of New York’s last 43 games. They’ll close out the season series with four games up in Toronto, which tends to be a house of horrors. The Yankees swept the Jays in the Bronx a week ago and lead the season series 9-5.

What Have They Done Lately?

The Blue Jays did the Yankees a favor by taking two of four from the Orioles this week, but they got their brains beat in yesterday. They’ve won just two of six since getting swept in the Bronx last week. Overall, the Jays are just 68-87 and stuck in last place in the AL East.

Offense

(Brad White/Getty)

Injuries have taken a toll on the offense, so the 4.4 runs per game average doesn’t really tell the whole story. The Blue Jays lost Jose Bautista (140 wRC+) to a wrist injury weeks ago, but they still have 42-homer man Edwin Encarnacion (155 wRC+). He was having some foot problems the last time these two clubs played, but he’s 100% now. That’s unfortunate.

The rest of the regular lineup is headlined by Brett Lawrie (92 wRC+), Moises Sierra (91 wRC+ in limited time), J.P. Arencibia (91 wRC+), and Adam Lind (91 wRC+). They’re the only other guys within ten percentage points of league average. Kelly Johnson (87 wRC+), Rajai Davis (86 wRC+), Colby Rasmus (84 wRC+), and Yunel Escobar (76 wRC+) are a bit below that. Anthony Gose (75 wRC+) has been disappointing overall, but he’s performed much better in September than he did in August. The rest of the position player crops features Jeff Mathis (69 wRC+), Omar Vizquel (46 wRC+), and a bunch of September call-ups: infielder Adeiny Hechavarria and utility men Yan Gomes and Mike McCoy.

Pitching Matchups

Thursday: RHP Ivan Nova vs. RHP Brandon Morrow
This was supposed to be a breakout year for the 28-year-old Morrow, who instead wound up missing more than two months with an oblique injury. He’s pitched to a 3.28 ERA (3.82 FIP) in his 19 starts though, so perhaps he was on his way to that breakout. The good news for Morrow is that his walk rate (2.87 BB/9 and 7.8 BB%) is a career-low, but so is his strikeout rate (7.71 K/9 and 21.0 K%). This is a guy that came into the season with a career strikeout rate north of ten per nine. The stuff is the same as always, a mid-90s four-seamer and a vicious upper-80s slider that is allergic to bats. He’ll also mix in a mid-80s splitter and a low-80s curveball. Morrow has decent career numbers against the Yankees but he’s always had this weird home/road thing going on against them. He dominates the Bombers in Toronto (1.26 ERA in 35.2 innings) but gets hammered in the Bronx (7.62 ERA in 28.1 innings). Unfortunately the Yankees are north of the border this week.

(J. Meric/Getty)

Friday: RHP Hiroki Kuroda vs. RHP Chad Jenkins
Jenkins, 24, recently moved into the rotation after coming up as a reliever at midseason. He’d started throughout his minor league career so it wasn’t anything new to him, and he held the Rays to one run in five innings while on a pitch count last time out. The right-hander owns a 4.24 ERA (5.34 FIP) in 23.1 innings this year, but again most of that came in relief. His peripherals stats — 4.63 K/9 (12.0 K%), 2.70 BB/9 (7.0 BB%), 1.54 HR/9, and 39.7% grounders — leave an awful lot to be deserved. Jenkins is a four-pitch pitcher, though he didn’t use his low-80s changeup all that much coming out of the bullpen. Low-90s two- and four-seamers set up his low-to-mid-80s slider. He threw a 1-2-3inning against the Yankees a few weeks ago, his second career appearance in the show.

Saturday: LHP Andy Pettitte vs. LHP Ricky Romero
This is will be the final start of Romero’s nightmare season, one that features a 5.76 ERA (5.19 FIP). The 27-year-old southpaw has set a new career-worst in every meaningful category, including strikeout (6.12 K/9 and 14.9 K%), walk (5.21 BB/9 and 12.7 BB%), and ground ball (53.7%) rates. The stuff is still the same — low-90s two- and four-seamers, low-80s changeup, upper-70s curveball — but his location has just been brutal. Romero’s been missing his spots and getting hit very, very. hard. The Yankees have faced the struggling left-hander four times this season, but the only time they really laid into him was back in July (six runs in six innings). In his last three starts against New York, Romero has allowed just six total runs in 20 innings.

Sunday: RHP Phil Hughes vs. LHP Aaron Laffey
Laffey, a former Yankee, has shuffled between the rotation and bullpen this year as injuries have decimated the pitching staff. The 27-year-old southpaw has pitched to a 4.52 ERA (5.56 FIP) in 95.2 total innings, relying on ground balls (49.4%) more than anything else. His strikeout (4.52 K/9 and 11.8 K%) and walk (3.48 BB/9 and 9.1 BB%) rates aren’t anything special. Laffey is a classic finesse lefty, sitting in the mid-80s with his four-seamer, cutter, and sinker. Low-80s sliders and changeups are his offspeed weapons of choice. The Yankees scored five runs off Laffey in three innings a week ago, and have hit him around a number of times this year in general.

There’s a decent chance that Henderson Alvarez will step in and start one of these games. He and Romero each started one end of a doubleheader earlier this week, so something has to give. Alvarez could start Saturday and push Romero back to Sunday, or he could start Sunday (pushing Laffey out of the series in both instances). Or he could not pitch at all. It’s unclear at the moment.

(Dave Reginek/Getty)

Bullpen Status
The recent doubleheader taxed manager John Farrell’s bullpen a bit, but yesterday’s blowout allowed some September call-ups to eat some innings while the core late-game relievers rested. Closer Casey Janssen (3.22 FIP) is setup by righty Brandon Lyon (3.01 FIP) and lefty Darren Oliver (2.85 FIP), plus the hard-throwing Steve Delabar (4.14 FIP) has thrown very well since being acquired from the Mariners at the trade deadline. Side-winding southpaw Aaron Loup (1.89 FIP) has pitched his way into a prominent role as well.

Jason Frasor (3.73 FIP) and Brad Lincoln (4.16 FIP) are the big names among the rest of the relievers, a group that is largely populated by call-ups. Farrell has five extra righties (David Carpenter, Joel Carreno, Chad Beck, Shawn Hill, Bobby Korecky) and one extra lefty (Brett Cecil) at his disposal. The Yankees have a relatively fresh bullpen thanks to CC Sabathia‘s eight innings yesterday, but make sure you check out our Bullpen Workload page for the exact details. For the latest and greatest on the Blue Jays, Drunk Jays Fans and Tao of Stieb are the places to go.