Well it only took 11 days for the Yankees to see the same opponent twice. After starting the year against the Blue Jays in New York, the Yankees will face off against them again in their home of Toronto Dunedin. This tweet from Jayson Stark sums it up nicely:
Their story so far
Just like the Yankees, the Blue Jays are off to a 4-5 start and are yet to sweep a series or be swept. After taking two of three from the Bombers, the Blue Jays promptly lost two out of three to both the Rangers and Angels.
Two main storylines have emerged for the Blue Jays thus far. First, as we’ll get to more in a moment, are the injuries. In addition to the typical injuries Derek discussed in the last series preview, the Blue Jays are currently dealing with players on the COVID-19 IL. Both Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and Teoscar Hernández have been placed on that IL – vaccine side effects for Gurriel Jr. meaning he could return as soon as he feels better and exposure for Hernández who will miss this series.
Second is the Blue Jays current home at their Spring Training site in Dunedin. It was surmised that this bandbox will lead to lots of runs, and through three games so far, 36 runs have been scored. Look for offense and lots of it over the next few days. And of course, cue the complaints about the games taking too damn long. Now that I’ve said that, you can expect three straight pitching duels.
With two-thirds of the season in the books, the Yankees play half of their remaining games against the Blue Jays starting today. Convenient timing considering that the Yankees and Blue Jays are separated by just one game. Toronto took over possession of second place yesterday with a victory over Boston and the Yankees’ loss in Baltimore.
Their Story So Far
Toronto, 22-18 on the season, got off to a slow start but played much better toward the end of August. After going 7-11 to open the year, the Blue Jays are on a 15-7 run entering this series with the Bombers. As noted shortly before, Toronto is in second place in the division and appears well on their way to a postseason appearance. Pretty impressive for a team that’s suffered a good deal of injuries and is playing in Buffalo, rather than Toronto, this year.
Not only are the Jays in good standing for a postseason appearance, but the team also has sought to get better. The front office was very active at the trade deadline and picked up a few pieces. Toronto mostly addressed the pitching staff by trading for Taijuan Walker, Robbie Ray, and Ross Stripling. This, presumably, was in response to various injuries on the staff as you’ll see in the next section. Additionally, the front office brought in Jonathan Villar as insurance for Bo Bichette. Gosh, sure would have been nice to see the Yankees act with that kind of urgency at the deadline.
The Jays are coming into this series after an OK week. They went 4-4, including a loss to Baltimore last Monday followed by a seven game road trip vs. Miami and Boston. Toronto split a two game set against the Marlins and took three of five from the Red Sox.
Teoscar Hernández, OF (oblique strain)
Bo Bichette, SS (knee strain)
Nate Pearson, RHP (flexor strain)
Ken Giles, RHP (elbow discomfort)
Héctor Pérez, RHP (undisclosed)
Elvis Luciano, RHP (undisclosed)
Matt Shoemaker, RHP (lat strain)
Jordan Romano, RHP (finger discomfort)
Yennsy Díaz, RHP (lat strain)
Trent Thornton, RHP (elbow surgery to remove loose bodies)
Spotlight: Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
We know all about Vlad Jr.’s potential. From his gaudy minor league numbers to his Hall of Fame bloodlines, Guerrero Jr. has been tabbed as the face (or one of the faces) of the Blue Jays rebuild. He debuted last season at just 20 years-old, but didn’t exactly set the world on fire. He hit .272/.339/.433 (105 wRC+) with 15 homers in 514 plate appearances. Did he have some impressive moments? Without a doubt. But the consistency wasn’t there. And to be fair, not many 20 year-olds get a chance to play at the highest level, let alone dominate from the get go.
After coming up as a third baseman, Toronto moved Guerrero Jr. to first base and designated hitter seemingly for good this year. He has still taken grounders at third, but first base seemed like the logical endpoint even before the decision was made. Defense just isn’t his strong suit, but his bat has more than enough potential to carry at an offensive-demanding spot like first base or DH.
This year, Vlad Jr. has a .259/.338/.455 (114 wRC+) triple-slash and six homers in 160 plate appearances. It’s a fine batting line, but it’s not quite up to expectations still. He’s hitting the snot out of the baseball (87th percentile in hard hit percentage), but he simply hits far too many balls into the ground. This was a problem we knew about last year, and yet, it’s only gotten worse.
In 2019, Guerrero Jr. had a 49.6 percent ground ball rate and hit 1.5 grounders for every fly ball. This year, he’s up to 57.3 percent and 2.3. That’s not good! He can crush the ball all he wants, but if he can’t figure out how to get more lift, he’s never going to grow into his power potential. Fortunately, he’s still producing at an above-average level as a 21 year-old despite this flaw. He’s still got plenty of time to sort things out. When and if he does, look out.
Cavan Biggio, 2B
Randal Grichuk, CF
Vladimir Guerrero Jr., 1B
Rowdy Tellez, DH
Lourdes Gurriel Jr., LF
Jonathan Villar, SS
Travis Shaw, 3B
Danny Jansen, C
Derek Fisher, RF
Caleb Joseph, C
Santiago Espinal, INF
Joe Panik, INF
Teoscar Hernández, OF (injured, roster move likely before series starts)
Ryu has been excellent for Toronto after signing a four year, $80 million deal this past winter. In 43 innings, the southpaw owns a 2.51 ERA and 2.73 FIP. He racks up strikeouts (27.6 percent), limits walks (6.9 percent), and induces a ton of soft contact. The Yankees’ depleted lineup is in for a tough one.
Montgomery got shelled last time out and couldn’t complete the first inning. The Yankees badly need a rebound start from him here. The 27 year-old let brings a 5.76 ERA and 4.71 FIP into this one.
This is the first time the Yankees face Walker as a member of the Blue Jays. Toronto just picked him up at the trade deadline. The impending free agent has had a nice season (3.26 ERA and 4.62 FIP) in 38 2/3 innings and has had two solid performances for Toronto already. He blanked Baltimore over six innings in his debut and surrendered two runs in 5 2/3 against Boston.
Happ faces his former team on Tuesday. JA was pretty dreadful against the Mets in his last start and gave up four runs in five innings. Felt like it could have been worse considering all of the baserunners (9) he allowed.
Wednesday, 6:37 p.m. EDT:Deivi García vs. Tanner Roark (vs. Yankees)
Roark’s yet another new addition to Toronto’s rotation. Like Ryu, Roark came aboard via free agency. It’s been a rough start for him in his new uniform. He’s got a 5.74 ERA and 6.31 FIP in seven starts and has yet to record an out in the sixth inning this season.
García’s third career start comes Wednesday. He was better than his final line indicated in his last start against Baltimore, albeit not as good as he was in his big league debut against the Mets. It seems like a pretty good chance that he’s going to remain a part of this rotation the rest of the way.
RHP: Anthony Bass, Rafael Dolis, AJ Cole, Julian Merryweather, Thomas Hatch, Wilmer Font, Shun Yamaguchi
LHP: Ryan Borucki, Anthony Kay
The bullpen had to work pretty hard in the team’s 10-8 win against Boston yesterday. Robbie Ray lasted four innings, so Font (31 pitches), Hatch (32), Cole (28), Borucki (5), and Dolis (14) had to make up five frames of work. Borucki and Dolis are probably available tonight, though the other three almost certainly aren’t. The only other arm likely unavailable tonight is Yamaguchi, who tossed 45 pitches on Saturday.
It’s important to note that Toronto’s bullpen has been a good this season, even with Ken Giles sidelined. It’s 3.11 ERA is fourth-best in baseball and its 59 shutdowns lead the league.
Alas, the Yankees could not extend their winning streak to 10 games. They have now lost their first game since the trade deadline. They were defeated by the Blue Jays 8-2 on Friday night, “falling” to 76-40 on the season. As you know, the AL East lead is commanding and the Yankees are fighting for home-field advantage. It’s baseball. Sometimes you lose, but the Yankees don’t really do that.
Let’s get right to the takeaways for this crappy, no good game of baseball.
1. J.A Happ, Home Run Extraordinaire: It’s no secret that J.A. Happ has struggled this year, significantly underperforming even what his harshest offseason critic would have predicted. Yet, if you squinted, you could see some encouraging signs–he’d surrendered fewer than 3 runs in 8 of his last 12 starts, for example. Not great, to be clear. But much closer.
Anyway, tonight was one of his frustrating ones. Coming into tonight, batters were hitting .278/.326/.497 off him–essentially making every batter he faces Andrew Benintendi–and he’s allowed more than 2 home runs per 9 innings pitched. Yeesh. Tonight will make all of those figures worse. Here is his pitch plot:
All over the place, with a lot of balls right down the heart of the plate. J.A., that is not what you want. As you can see, too, there are a lot of balls–only 58 of his 99 pitches (58%) went for strikes. Add all that up, and you get his line from tonight: 5.0 IP, 4 H, 6 R, 3 BB, 4 K, 3 HR.
Most frustrating, as usual, was the home runs. He has now allowed 29 (!) home runs on the season. That’s more than any player on the Yankees has hit. That’s right: J.A. Happ has allowed more home runs than any Yankee has hit. I might have to keep track of this going forward. Here is the video of the first two:
The third one was a whole different animal, though. I’ll get to that more in the below section, but the Yankees blew a chance at getting Happ out of the inning not once but twice. It was frustrating. It’s true. Happ then did this:
Which resulted in this:
Bad defense is bad defense, but my man, you have got to be better than that. Completely changed the game, bringing the score to 6-1 from 3-1.
2. Bad, Bad Infield Defense Costs the Yanks: So, about that defense. The weird part about it was that the two blunders came from Gio Urshela and DJ LeMahieu, the two men almost singlehandedly responsible for turning around the Yankees infield defense this year. Here’s what happened.
Happ quickly retired the first two batters, but then allowed a two-out double to old friend Brandon Drury. Happ then threw a wild pitch that got away from Romine, allowing Drury to try for third–which he did, despite Romine’s throw beating him handily. Gio tried to aggressively tag Drury instead of just covering the base with his glove, and Drury did a “swim move” slide that beat the tag. He should have been out, but Gio’s poor tag resulted in the call on the field (out) to be overturned. The inning continued. Check out the video:
Happ then walked Derek Fisher on 5 pitches, setting up runners on the corners and two outs for Jansen (highlighted above). Jansen popped the ball up just off first base, but DJ LeMahieu lost it in the twilight. Again, there is no video but the ball should have been caught. It was not. Happ was understandably exasperated but proceeded to throw a meatball on the next pitch that was absolutely crushed.
Still, extremely annoying. Oh well, I guess–it happens–but it’s frustrating when a pitcher who’s trying to turn around his season has to get 5 outs. I’m not making excuses for Happ, but it is just frustrating. Good news is that these blunders are exceptionally rare for the 2019 Yankees.
3. The Sock Man Continues To, Well, Sock ‘Em: It’s another night, which means that Mike Tauchman hit a home run. It’s true. Our man is unstoppable, and he is on a mission to be the best Mike T. in baseball. I covered Tauchman’s recent run in last night’s takeaways, so check that out for a more detailed analysis. But the TL;DR is this: Tauchman has been so, so good. Basically the best player in the league in recent weeks. After today’s 2-4 performance, he’s now up to .297/.372/.578 (146 wRC+) on the season. Incredible. Here’s the video of his home run:
4. The Blue Jays Core Looks Legit: You know, I said this on Twitter last night, but the Blue Jays really do have some encouraging pieces on their team. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. may not have had the immediate impact that many expected, but I fully expect that dude to rake. You can already see the signs. The recent call ups of Bo Bichette and Cavan Biggio also seem to have made a real difference, as Toronto is an above-average offense since the start of July.
We saw Bichette’s impressive power last night, but tonight he made a spectacular catch against Didi Gregorius, for which there is inexplicably no video yet. After the lead was extended to 6-1, the Yankees loaded the bases with two outs in the top of the 5th following a Valera walk, a LeMahieu double (obviously), and an Urshela walk. Didi Gregorius hit a scorcher up the middle at 97 mph with an expected batting average of .620–only Bichette had other plans. He snagged the ball impressively, ending the Yankees best chance for a comeback of the night.
If the Blue Jays start spending on starting pitching at any point to supplement their budding offensive core, then I think we’d have to watch out for them. Now, the good news (not really, but only from narrow Yankee self-interest) is that GM Mark Shapiro is literally allergic to “spending money”, “paying players”, and “consciously improving a team”, so I’m sure this will go to waste. But it’s something to keep an eye on, for sure. For more context on the state of the Blue Jays’ rebuild, check out this phenomenal meditation on the team and its relationship with its fanbase by Shi Davidi on SportsNet.
Rough Night for HP ump Chris Segal: Boy was that a rough night for the home plate ump. Embarrassing, really. It was bad umpiring all around, but it was the top of the 4th that will make its mark. After a close (but not egregious) call that went against Maybin in the top of the 4th, Josh Bard and Aaron Boone all shouted at him. Notably, Brett Gardner did not join in on the fun. He was sitting there, silently. Annoyed, perhaps. But silent. Anyway, without looking, Segal turned and ejected…someone from the game. Turns out it was Gardner, who, again, did not say a word. Absolutely ridiculous. Ruocco and Cone ripped into him during the broadcast, but that was nothing compared to Gardner’s reaction. Check it out:
Aaron Judge is Struggling: Jeez, Aaron Judge is struggling, isn’t he? He was supposed to get tonight off, but obviously, Segal had other plans. Judge entered the game for Gardner after the top of the 4th, going 0-2 and not looking right at the plate. He is hitting .164/.292/.273 (42 wRC+) since July 25, and what he is hitting, he is pounding the ball into the ground. I am not worried about Judge at all, and neither should you. Happens to everyone. He’ll be carrying the team soon enough.
Nestor Cortes Jr. With A Nice Appearance: A nice appearance for Nestor Cortes Jr. tonight. He replaced Happ in the 6th and threw two scoreless innings, allowing just one walk. That’s a nice appearance, and he gave the Yankees a shot to come back.
Kahnle, Not So Much: That was not Kahnle’s night. He walked Vlad Jr. right after nearly hitting him on the first pitch, resulting in a staredown, and never really seemed to be in control. Although he quickly got a double play, he allowed a quick double and a moonshot to Teoscar Martinez, for his second home run of the game. His line: 1.0 IP, 2 H, 2 R, 1 BB, 1 K. Check out the video:
Built Ford Tough: Even in the losses, the replacement Yankees step up. Tonight it was Mike Ford, who hit a home run to bring the deficit to 6-2. It’s wild how this keeps happening. Here’s the video:
The Yankees and Blue Jays will play the third game of this four-game weekend set tomorrow, with Jacob Waguespack (3-1, 4.00 ERA) set to take on a to-be-announced Yankee starter (they’re wisely giving Tanaka an extra day of rest). We’ll keep this updated when they do announce. That game will take place at 3:07 pm at the Rodgers Centre. You can catch it on YES and WFAN, as usual. Have a good night, everyone.
The Yankees head north of the border for the first time this season to begin their season series with the Blue Jays.
Their Story Thus Far
The Jays are the worst hitting team in the American League and have the AL’s third-worst record at 21-38. As a team they have a 75 wRC+, 29th in baseball and are tied for last with -0.3 fWAR from position players. Toronto bats .219/.285/.375 as a team.
Their batting average and on-base percentages are worst in baseball, while they sport the fifth-highest strikeout rate and eight-lowest walk rate. When you passively follow the Jays, it always feels like they’re getting no-hit through 3-4 innings.
Their pitching staff is decidedly mediocre. The Jays are middle of the pack with 4.48 ERA and 4.64 FIP. They walk a lot of batters (9.8 percent, to be exact) and have received the fifth-fewest innings from their starters. Their best starter, Marcus Stroman, is not on turn this series, some good fortune for the Bombers.
See the blue bar at the bottom? That’s the Jays’ chances of winning the division.
The Jays, unfortunately, have packed their injured list with pitchers. LHP Ryan Borucki and old friend David Phelps are recovering from elbow injuries on the 60-day IL and could be back later this month. Starter Matt Shoemaker is out for the season with an ACL tear.
Meanwhile, RHP Clay Buchholz, LHP Tim Mayza and RHP Ryan Tepera are all on the 10-day IL. Tepera underwent elbow surgery last month but could return in July. INF Devon Travis and OF Dalton Pompey are both on the 60-day IL.
Player Spotlight: Vladito!!!
After Vladimir Guerrero Jr. got off to a slow start, the top prospect in all of baseball is hitting .248/.318/.453, a slightly-above-league-average line.
However, in his 18 games since smacking his first home run, he’s put up a .286/.342/.600 line with six home runs. His power is evident and the hitting for average is coming along.
Vladito has also made some strong defensive plays, but you didn’t read this far to talk about OK third base play. You’re here for some dingers.
For good measure, here’s his dad against the Red Sox. Love to watch both of these guys!
Other than Justin Smoak, Vladito is the only hitter you fear in this lineup. Don’t let either of those two beat you and you can live with the result. While I’m looking forward to watching him this series, I’m especially excited for him to make his Bronx debut in three weeks.
Eric Sogard, 2B (.268/.350/.431, 111 wRC+)
Vladimir Guerrero Jr., 3B (.248/.318/.453, 105 wRC+)
Justin Smoak, 1B (.240/.383/.475, 132 wRC+)
Randal Grichuk, CF (.222/.282/.394, 79 wRC+)
Rowdy Tellez, DH (.232/.280/.440, 91 wRC+)
Cavan Biggio, RF (.217/.333/.348, 89 wRC+)
Brandon Drury, LF (.225/.263/.388, 69 wRC+)
Freddy Galvis, SS (.248/.285/.419, 84 wRC+)
Danny Jansen, C (.167/.250/.250, 37 wRC+)
Their bench consists of backup catcher Luke Maile, INF/OF Lourdes Guerriel Jr. and OF Jonathan Davis. You’ll likely see Guerriel man a corner and Biggio play some infield. They essentially have only two real outfielders with Davis and Grichuk and are faking it in the corners.
Tuesday (7:07 PM ET) Masahiro Tanaka (vs. Blue Jays) vs. Clayton Richard (vs. Yankees)
Clayton Richard comes over to the Blue Jays from the San Diego Padres, where he saw a fair amount of DJ LeMahieu and few other Yankees. The southpaw is two starts into Jays career. and he lasted four innings in each. He’s walked one more batter than he’s struck out, but he’s held opponents to three runs over his eight innings. After working 81 pitches against the Rays last start, he should be fully stretched out.
If you’re unfamiliar with Richard, he’s essentially an innings eater. He led baseball in hits allowed (and batters faced) two years ago. He’s generally posted average home run rates with uninspiring K-BB ratios.
He works almost exclusively with a 90-mph sinker and a low-80s/high-70s slider. The left-hander won’t blow hitters away with speed.
Wednesday (7:07 PM ET) James Paxton (vs. Blue Jays) vs. Trent Thornton (vs. Red Sox)
Thornton is a rookie right-handed pitcher, added from the Astros this offseason in a trade for infielder Aledmys Diaz, who’s having a strong year in Houston. Neither side can complain right now, as Thornton has 0.8 bWAR in his first taste of the Major Leagues.
The right-hander has below-average velocity but has shown an ability to strike batters out, fanning 65 hitters in 59 2/3 innings and 10 in his penultimate start on May 24). Walks have been an issue with three or more in five of his 12 starts and two or more in all but three.
How does he strike batters out? Thornton has a high-spin fastball and a high-speed slider/curve. He uses the fastball and slider the most with some cutters and then splitters to lefties. His fastball and cutter have elicited some hard contact while his slider is his most effective pitch.
Thursday (7:07 PM ET) J.A. Happ (vs. Blue Jays) vs. Edwin Jackson (vs. Yankees)
This is Edwin Jackson’s 14th team!!! Jackson set the record when he debuted for the Jays, though this is actually his second stint in the organization. Just hadn’t pitched a Major League inning for them.
It hasn’t been great for the veteran righty, who allowed 10 runs and got just seven outs in his last start. He surrendered seven runs in four innings in his previous start and six runs in five innings in the start before that. Somehow, he has a home run rate that far surpasses Happ. He comes in with a 13.22 ERA with 7.92 FIP.
At this point in his career, he doesn’t strike many out and hovers around a 2-to-1 K/BB late couple years. At 35, we may actually be seeing the end of Jackson’s remarkable MLB career. As for stuff, he works with a low-to-mid 90s fastball, low 90s cutter and mid-80s slider.
Beyond Giles, it’s tough sledding for our northern friends. RHP Joe Biagini gets the next high leverage spots among healthy relievers while Daniel Hudson, Javy Guerra and Thomas Pannone work in middle relief. Pannone is the lone lefty in relief with Mayza on IL.
Derek Law and fellow righty Sam Gaviglio have gotten some lower leverage work while the lowest leverage spots go to 19-year-old Rule 5 pick Elvis Luciano, the youngest player in MLB. The Jays will likely add a reliever back to the 25-man roster today after sending down RHP Justin Shafer.
Keys to watch:
Paxton at the scene of the crime
The last time James Paxton was in Rogers Centre? Oh, he just threw a no-hitter. Not bad. Facing this team has extra meaning for him with it being in his home country and the Jays messing him up in the draft.
The Jays threw a four-man outfield at Aaron Judge in Spring Training and I’m intrigued to see if they try something similar on any Yankees hitters this series. The Rays went with a four-man outfield against Gleyber Torres a few weeks ago and Montoyo was Tampa’s bench coach a year ago.