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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.

Injury Report

  • 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.

Projected Lineup

  1. Cavan Biggio, 2B
  2. Randal Grichuk, CF
  3. Vladimir Guerrero Jr., 1B
  4. Rowdy Tellez, DH
  5. Lourdes Gurriel Jr., LF
  6. Jonathan Villar, SS
  7. Travis Shaw, 3B
  8. Danny Jansen, C
  9. Derek Fisher, RF

Bench:

  • Caleb Joseph, C
  • Santiago Espinal, INF
  • Joe Panik, INF
  • Teoscar Hernández, OF (injured, roster move likely before series starts)

Pitching Matchups

Tonight, 6:37 p.m. EDT: Jordan Montgomery (vs. Blue Jays) vs. Hyun-Jin Ryu (vs. Yankees)

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.

Ryu.

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.

Tomorrow, 6:37 p.m. EDT: JA Happ (vs. Blue Jays) vs. Taijuan Walker (vs. Yankees)

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.

Walker.

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.

Roark.

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.

Bullpen Status

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.