The Yankees won’t see George Springer this series.

The regular season is finally here and the Yankees face a tough opponent right out of the gate: the Toronto Blue Jays. The forecast does look a bit iffy for this afternoon’s affair, but there is a scheduled day off tomorrow just in case the weather doesn’t cooperate. Before the first of three games this weekend, let’s break down this upcoming series:

Their story so far

There’s not much of a story to tell…yet. Dom did a nice job previewing the 2021 season for the Blue Jays a few weeks ago, so read up on the team’s outlook there. The main thing to happen to Toronto since Dom’s piece: injuries, and lots of them.

The oft-injured pitching prospect Nate Pearson was already sidelined in early March, but the Jays suffered a spate of injuries over the last week or so. It was in 2020 Yankees-like fashion, truly. Just read this thread:

Sheesh. Kirby Yates did have Tommy John surgery last week, so he won’t pitch for Toronto at all. That leaves them without a defined closer for the time being. Jordan Romano and Rafael Dolis figure to get the save opportunities for the time being.

The team added George Springer and Robbie Ray to the injured list yesterday, so we won’t see either of them in this series. Neither of their maladies seem too serious, so the Jays shouldn’t be without them too long. Still, what an inauspicious start for a team planning to contend in 2021.

Injury Report

PlayerInjuryRoster StatusEstimated Return
George SpringerOblique Strain10-day ILEarly/Mid April
Robbie RayElbow Contusion10-day ILEarly/Mid April
Nate PearsonGroin Strain10-day ILLate April
Kirby YatesTommy John Surgery60-Day ILOut for Season
Thomas HatchElbow discomfortTBDTBD
Patrick MurphyShoulder Strain60-Day ILLate May

Spotlight: Rowdy Tellez

Even without Springer for this series, Toronto has a great lineup. You’ll see the offense’s names and projected stats in the subsequent section, but the one player who may not seem like much of a threat is Rowdy Tellez. Not only does he have a Grade A baseball player name, but he also possesses a potent bat.

At 6-foot-4 and 255 pounds, Tellez looks the part of a Quad-A slugger. And through the 2019 season, it looked like he’d have a hard time amounting to anything more than that. He owned a .241/.299/.475 (100 wRC+) in his first 482 plate appearances of his career, with most of the success coming in a 73 plate appearance stint in 2018 (151 wRC+). He displayed plenty of power, swatting 25 homers and recording a .234 isolated power. The problem? He struck out 28.4 percent of the time and walked in just 6.4 percent of plate appearances.

But in 2020, things changed. Tellez worked alongside teammate Bo Bichette and Bo’s father, former major leaguer Dante Bichette, in advance of the 2020 season. The work paid dividends in the pandemic-shortened season. The lefty hit .283/.346/.540 (133 wRC+) and blasted 8 dingers in 127 trips to the plate. He reduced his strikeout rate to a mere 15.7 percent, and also walked a bit more (8.7 percent). He earned those results:

Yes, we have to caveat that 2020 was a small sample, but his improvement doesn’t necessarily look like a fluke, especially considering the adjustments he made and the supporting Statcast numbers. Perhaps most importantly, Tellez jumped from the 14th percentile in whiff rate in 2019 to the 63rd percentile last season. Making contact really helped his power play up.

Tellez will hit in the bottom-third of Toronto’s lineup and should be the team’s full-time designated hitter (or first baseman in rotation with Vlad Jr.). But he’s still a threat even down in the lineup, and especially this weekend with the short porch at Yankee Stadium.

Projected Lineup

Below is Roster Resource’s projected starting lineup along with PECOTA’s 2021 projections in parentheses.

  1. Marcus Semien, 2B (.245/.322/.428, 105 DRC+)
  2. Cavan Biggio, 3B (.231/.354/.399, 109 DRC+)
  3. Bo Bichette, SS (.264/.317/.443, 105 DRC+)
  4. Teoscar Hernández, RF (.242/.310/.476, 111 DRC+)
  5. Vladimir Guerrero Jr., 1B (.277/.347/.461, 121 DRC+)
  6. Lourdes Gurriel, Jr., LF (.263/.308/.455, 107 DRC+)
  7. Rowdy Tellez, DH (.247/.323/.448, 108 DRC+)
  8. Randal Grichuk, OF (.238/.293/.451, 99 DRC+)
  9. Danny Jansen, C (.237/.335/.408, 107 DRC+)

Bench:

  • Alejandro Kirk, C (.256/.330/.396, 100 DRC+)
  • Joe Panik, INF (.245/.328/.368, 93 DRC+)
  • Jonathan Davis, OF (.220/.313/.364, 89 DRC+)

Pitching Matchups

Today, 1:05 pm EDT

LHP Hyun-Jin Ryu

Toronto settled for Ryu as a consolation prize to his opponent today, but there’s no doubt the Blue Jays are happy to have the 34 year-old lefty. He posted a 2.69 ERA in 12 starts in 2020 and should do more of the same this season. PECOTA projects Ryu to record a 3.14 ERA in 159.2 innings this season. (Stats vs. Yankees)

RHP Gerrit Cole

It may be year two of Gerrit Cole in pinstripes, but he still feels like the team’s shiny new toy, no? We got shortchanged last year at no fault of his, of course. It’s awfully exciting to see him ready for 30-plus starts for the first time in pinstripes. Let the Cy Youn campaign begin. (Stats vs. Blue Jays)

Ryu.

Saturday, 1:05 pm EDT

RHP Ross Stripling

Robbie Ray probably would have started this game (or game three), but his injury has forced a shuffle. Stripling has been a swingman for much of his career, but has plenty of experience as a starter. He came over from the Dodgers via trade last summer. PECOTA projects a 3.47 ERA in 125 innings for Stripling. (Stats vs. Yankees)

RHP Corey Kluber

Some folks raised concerns about Kluber’s command in spring training. He walked 7 and hit 3 batters in 13 Grapefruit League innings, which certainly isn’t good. But in better news, the stuff was mostly there (save for a tick on his fastball, though he’s not a power pitcher) and he came out healthy. Perhaps he just had to shake off some rust after barely pitching in well over a year.

(Stats vs. Blue Jays)

Stripling.

Sunday, 1:05 pm EDT

RHP TJ Zeuch

Toronto selected the 6-foot-7 Zeuch in the first round of the 2016 draft. He hasn’t yet lived up to his draft status, though. His arsenal is chock-full of average pitches and he doesn’t miss many bats, per Baseball Prospectus’s prospect team. PECOTA’s not too fond of Zeuch. The system forecasts a 4.70 ERA in 52 frames. (Stats vs. Yankees)

RHP Domingo Germán

No one anticipated Germán making the team’s third start of the season. There was plenty of doubt about the righty’s status not only in the rotation, but with the team at the outset of spring training after last year’s suspension for domestic violence. Germán was dominant in Grapefruit League play and won a rotation gig. Now we’ll see if it carries over to the regular season. (Stats vs. Blue Jays)

Zeuch.

Bullpen Status

RHP: Jordan Romano, Rafael Dolis, Tyler Chatwood, David Phelps, Julian Merryweather, Trent Thornton

LHP: Ryan Borucki, Tim Mayza

Obviously, the team’s bullpen will never be as fresh as it is come the opening series. We should see a lot of their ‘pen this series, especially in the games after Ryu’s start.

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