To close a red-hot homestand, the Yankees welcome their friends from up north, the Blue Jays
Their Story Thus Far
I call the Blue Jays the Yankees’ friends because they just took two of three from the Red Sox in Boston. They’ve gone 6-10 since taking two of three from the Bombers a few weeks ago and are 29-49, a good 20.5 games behind the Yankees.
The Jays have a general outline of a good team: A few great prospects, some respectable veteran hitters, a couple good starters and a fire-balling closer. The rest … meh.
Toronto has been better offensively this month — 94 wRC+ vs. 81 wRC+ for the full season — with Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Cavan Biggio and others leading the charge. The Yankees get lucky and avoid the Jays’ top starter, trade target Marcus Stroman.
The Blue Jays have seven players on the 60-day IL: Pitchers Ryan Borucki, Clay Buchholz, Elvis Luciano, Matt Shoemaker and Ryan Tepera as well as 2B Devon Travis and RF Dalton Pompey. Of those, only Borucki is closing in on a return.
Starter Edwin Jackson was recently played on the 10-day IL while first-baseman Justin Smoak is eligible to return during this series, though he isn’t expected back just yet. RHP Jacob Waguespack could be activated this week.
Player Spotlight: Cavan Biggio
When a big-name prospect gets called up, you’ll often see them struggle to maintain a high walk rate as they adjust to the Majors. Cavan Biggio isn’t just any prospect.
The 24-year-old son of a Hall of Famer has drawn 18 walks in his first 97 plate appearances and shown the plate discipline of someone well past arbitration. It doesn’t come as a complete shock: He walked often at every level in the minors en route to his May call-up.
Still, you don’t often see a rookie posting a .218/.362/.449 batting line in their first month of the bigs. He’s flashed power with five home runs and even stole one of his three bases off Gary Sanchez.
Last weekend, he was the bane of Boston’s existence with an RBI double Sunday following a pair of key hits in Saturday’s Toronto victory. Fangraphs wrote about his approach at the plate, but in short, his pitch identification is fabulous as he doesn’t swing at pitches off the plate. New York could be seeing a lot of him over the next half decade.
- Eric Sogard, DH (.305/.371/.505, 133 wRC+)
- Vladimir Guerrero Jr., 3B (.246/.315/.410, 94 wRC+)
- Lourdes Gurriel Jr., LF (.286/.338/.558, 134 wRC+)
- Randal Grichuk, RF (.221/.279/.412, 81 wRC+)
- Teoscar Hernandez, CF (.210/.284/.376, 74 wRC+)
- Cavan Biggio, 2B (.218/.361/.449, 119 wRC+)
- Freddy Galvis, SS (.262/.302/.434, 93 wRC+)
- Rowdy Tellez, 1B (.225/.285/.459, 91 wRC+)
- Danny Jansen, C (.168/.253/.237, 35 wRC+)
Their bench consists of utility man (and former Yankee) Brandon Drury (58 wRC+), former NYY 1B/OF Billy McKinney (74 wRC+) and backup catcher Luke Maile (33 wRC+).
Don’t sleep on Gurriel, who has raked since he was recalled from Buffalo and has turned into a decent outfielder to boot.
Aaron Sanchez isn’t far removed from being a top pitching prospect for the Blue Jays with potential knockout stuff. Remember his All-Star 2016 season when he finished seventh in Cy Young voting? Feels like forever ago.
Since 2016, Sanchez’s ERA has risen every year and now sits at 5.49, right in line with a 5.48 FIP. He’s walked five batters per nine innings every year since 2017 while his strikeouts have plateaued. He allows a league-average number of home runs.
He still throws in the mid-90s with his sinker and fastball, but hitters get to those pitches consistently. Meanwhile, his best pitch — a high-spin curveball — gets used just 20 percent of the time, similar usage to his changeup.
Richard, 35, is a soft-tossing left-hander who the Yankees should be able to hit around after only breaking through for two runs last month. The left-hander has allowed a homer in all but one start this year and walks more batters than he strikes out.
He allows a league-worst 93.4 mph avg. exit velocity and strikes out just 12 percent of batters. He uses his sinker to keep the ball on the ground to an extent, yet he allows 1.78 home runs per nine innings.
Overall, he sports a 7.46 ERA and 6.64 FIP through 25 1/3 innings and six starts. He hasn’t completed more than five innings. He throws 62 percent sinkers and 26 percent sliders, occasionally peppering hitters with four-seamers or changeups.
Thornton faced the Yankees at the start of the month and shut them down until coming unglued the second time through the order. Gary Sanchez helped knock him out, but the rookie right-hander held his own against a tough lineup.
Since his first outing against New York, he’s put forth two of his best outings of the year, tossing a combined 13 innings of two-run ball against the Astros and Red Sox. In those two games, he struck out 14 and walked four, lowering his season ERA to 4.25 in the process.
The UNC product comes at hitters with a high-spin fastball around 93 mph as well as a high-spin 80-mph slider, working in a cutter and splitter. The slider has been an effective putaway pitch while hitters have hit his four-seamer for power.
The Blue Jays’ bullpen all leads up to Ken Giles, the fire-balling closer who has figured things out this season. He has a 1.33 ERA with a 47:8 K/BB ratio in 27 innings. Don’t let Toronto take a lead into the ninth.
Setting him up are right-handers Daniel Hudson, Joe Biagini and David Phelps. Hudson and Biagini have been midly effective, the former with an elevated walk rate, while Phelps just returned from Tommy John surgery.
Left-hander Tim Mayza is the only lefty in the pen and often gets matchup work. RHP Nick Kingham just came over from Pittsburgh as a former starter and can give the team length. Sam Gaviglio sits somewhere in middle relief.
Meanwhile, Sean Reid-Foley was called up over the weekend. He’s a starter, so he could give the team plenty of innings if needed.
Phelps, Mayza and Biagini each threw an inning Sunday while Gaviglio tossed 3 2/3 innings Saturday followed by two frames from Kingham.
Keys to watch:
The Rays’ farm system is loaded, but the Jays don’t look half shabby with their collection in the high Minors and Majors. Vladito, Gurriel Jr. and Biggio will be thorns in the Yankees’ side with Bo Bichette coming soon.
Thornton has had a respectable rookie year, but both Sanchez and Richard are pitchers the Yankees should torment with their patient approach. It was a similar story last time in Toronto, yet the Yankees lost two of three.