Toronto Blue Jays Series Preview: 7/12-7/14

Gurriel may have the best hair in the game (MLB Gifs)

Break time is over. Now back to the grind as the Yankees battle Canada’s team.

Their Story Thus Far

The Jays enter the second half with a 34-57 record, 24.5 games behind the Yankees. Since a sweep in New York a few weeks ago, Toronto has gone5-5, including losing two of three to both the Red Sox and Orioles.

Despite sitting well out of the playoff chase, the Jays still make news in July. First, can we talk about Vladimir Guerrero Jr.’s Home Run Derby? That was an all-timer. We’re going to talk about that with Josh Hamilton, Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Judge, etc. It was unreal.

And, more pertinent, the Jays are going to sell at the deadline. Top starter Marcus Stroman and closer Ken Giles are among the top available players at their positions. Unfortunately, unlike the previous Yanks-Jays series, Stroman is lined up to pitch in this one.

Injury Report

The Jays have a crowded long-term injury list. Starters Ryan Borucki and Edwin Jackson are on rehab assignments, as is outfielder Dalton Pompey. 60-day IL mates Clay Buchholz, Elvis Luciano and Devon Travis aren’t so close to returns. Right-hander Matt Shoemaker remains out for the season.

Reliever Ryan Tepera could return later this month from elbow surgery, though not this series. Meanwhile, Stroman has dealt with a left pectoral issue, which caused him to miss a start. He should be recovered after the All-Star break.

Player Spotlight: Lourdes Gurriel Jr.

In his second season, Gurriel has broken out. He’s batting .303/.355/.626 and has 16 home runs, five more than he had in his solid debut season with 54 more at-bats.

That doesn’t tell the whole story: He was batting .175/.250/.275 with no homers through 13 games to start the year before a demotion. He came back on May 24 as the team’s primary left fielder — a position he hadn’t played before this year — and has raked.

From May 24 until now, Gurriel’s 182 wRC+ ranks third in baseball, behind just Mike Trout and Peter Alonso. He’s begun destroying sliders after already being proficient against fastballs. He even smashed two homers off James Paxton … and one off Jonathan Holder.

With Vladito at third base, Bo Bichette set to take shortstop and Cavan Biggio playing primarily at the keystone, Gurriel remains part of the core but will need to play corner outfield long term. He’s been OK there thus far, yet his inexperience shows.

Bonus Spotlight: Ken Giles

Since Giles has been attached to the Yankees in rumors, I figured it made sense to break down his season (Bobby will do so in more depth next week if he isn’t traded over the weekend).

The flamethrowing right-hander has returned to his pre-Houston results, posting a 1.45 ERA and 53 strikeouts (to just nine walks) in 31 innings. He’s converted 13 of 14 save chances and has a 1.49 FIP, indicating that his season isn’t just dumb luck.

His 43.4 percent strikeout rate is second highest in baseball to Josh Hader, as is his 36.1 K-BB rate. He seems well past his Punching-Himself-in-the-Face phase and back to elite reliever-dom.

Giles did miss two weeks with elbow inflammation, but he’s been his normal self in his return. He’d be a tremendous, though somewhat superfluous, addition to the Yankees’ bullpen and make them that much more monstrous in October.

Potential Lineup

  1. Eric Sogard, DH (.294/.364/.478, 124 wRC+)
  2. Freddy Galvis, SS (.270/.309/.467, 102 wRC+)
  3. Lourdes Gurriel, Jr., LF (.303/.355/.626, 153 wRC+)
  4. Cavan Biggio, 2B (.232/.362/.424, 113 wRC+)
  5. Vladimir Guerrero Jr., 3B (.249/.328/.413, 98 wRC+)
  6. Justin Smoak, 1B (.217/.358/.418, 111 wRC+)
  7. Randal Grichuk, CF (.233/.291/.417, 86 wRC+)
  8. Danny Jansen, C (.211/.281/.380, 74 wRC+)
  9. Teoscar Hernandez, RF (.204/.267/.361, 64 wRC+)

This was more or less their lineup just before the break, though Grichuk was nursing a back injury. The Jays have Luke Maile (28 wRC+) as their backup catcher, while 1B/OF Billy McKinney (68 wRC+), INF/OF Brandon Drury (69 wRC+) and 1B/DH Rowdy Tellez (84 wRC+) each get playing time.

Word of warning: Danny Jansen’s numbers might be misleading. In his last 11 games, he’s started to find his bat with six home runs and a 264 wRC+.

Pitching Matchups

Friday (7:05 PM ET) Domingo German (vs. Jays) vs. Aaron Sanchez (vs. Yankees)

Funny enough, the Yankees faced Sanchez and Richard in back-to-back starts the last time the Blue Jays came to the Bronx. Sanchez’s final line was ugly: 5.1 IP, 9 H, 7 R. His ERA has since risen above 6.00.

But Sanchez actually held his own for four-plus innings before Aaron Hicks took him deep and opened the floodgates. The underlying numbers get worse: The Yankees tagged him for an average exit velocity of 95.8 mph as Sanchez induced just six swings and misses.

The right-hander walked three in that game, right in line with his harmful walk issue. If the Yankees can wait him out and keep a similar approach, they should be able to torch Sanchez again.

Saturday (1:05 PM ET) J.A. Happ (vs. Jays) vs. Clayton Richard (vs. Yankees)

Don’t worry: In the two weeks since he last faced the Yankees, Richard has not gained 10 mph on his fastball. He’s still the same slow-pitching left-hander that the Yankees tagged for three home runs in that start.

Despite his 6.23 ERA, the Yankees haven’t killed Richard this season, scoring just five runs over 10 2/3 innings. Part of that is timing: None of the homers he allowed last time were with men on base. The Yankees hit him hard, though not as on the barrel as Sanchez.

Richard won’t make you swing and miss and can get a team out of sorts with weak contact. However, that type of pitcher should be cannon fodder for this Yankees lineup. It’s just a matter of coming in with the right approach.

Sunday (1:05 PM ET) Masahiro Tanaka (vs. Jays) vs. Marcus Stroman (vs. Yankees)

Bobby already broke down Stroman in-depth for the site, so I direct you there for analysis of his repertoire. For basics, he’s one of the few remaining sinkerballers while also using a cutter and slider.

But with this start, you have to know Stroman’s mentality. He gets up for these games. He’s pitched extremely well against the Red Sox this year and he knows this is a showcase for potential suitors, perhaps even the team he’s facing.

“I love excitement,” Stroman told Lindsey Adler about pitching in NY. “I love bright lights. I love competition. I love pressure. I’ve always loved pitching here even though I haven’t necessarily pitched well here. I’ve always enjoyed it.”

Stroman missed his last start with an injury, so he also needs to show he’s healthy. He’s had plenty of rest and the chance to get pointers from All-Stars and future Hall of Famers at the Midsummer Classic.

Bullpen Status

The top two in Toronto’s bullpen hierarchy is clear: Giles as the closer with veteran Daniel Hudson as the setup man. From there, Tim Mayza is the lefty specialist but roles are more fungible otherwise.

Former Yankee David Phelps is back from Tommy John surgery and has both opened and pitched in middle relief. Joe Biagini gets some higher leverage work in the middle innings, as does Derek Law on occasion despite a 6.99 ERA.

Sam Gaviglio and Nick Kingham pitch primarily in long relief while recent call-up Justin Shafer has seen low leverage work as well.

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Game 89: Yanks Return From ASB to Shut Out Blue Jays

4 Comments

  1. 3 run double, EE. Cashman failed.

    • dasit

      caleb smith and garrett cooper for mike king
      in that instance it appears he actually did fail (so far)

  2. Thomas Mulhearn

    Hard Pass on Ken “Headcase” Giles….i’ll take Stro though

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