Buffalo is the home of this week’s three-game series between the Yankees and Blue Jays. Toronto moved to upstate New York after playing their early-season home games in Dunedin, Florida. Early spring weather isn’t always the best in Buffalo, you know. Anyway, the Yankees badly need to right the ship, starting with this series. Let’s break down the Bombers’ opponent.
Their story so far
At 33-31, the Blue Jays sit alone in third-place of the American League East. They’re a half game in front of the Yankees, who they’ll look to hold off this week. Meanwhile, they’re looking up at the Red Sox (5.5 games back) and Rays (8.5 games back).
The Blue Jays win games by bludgeoning opposing pitchers. Only the Astros (5.51), Dodgers (5.26), and Reds (5.14) have scored more runs than Toronto (5.03) per game this season. No one has hit more homers than the Blue Jays though (100), with Minnesota the closest at 97. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. has carried this offense, though he’s certainly not alone (more on him in the spotlight section). Five players have double-digit home run totals (the Yankees have two). Keep in mind that Toronto has done all of this with George Springer on the injured list for all but four team games.
Toronto would be a real force if they could pitch a bit better. It’s not a bad staff by the numbers — its 4.27 runs allowed per game is better than the 4.40 league average — but there’s still a lot of room for improvement. Outside of Hyun Jin Ryu (3.34 ERA) and Robbie Ray (3.45 ERA), the rotation is pretty bad. 13 different pitchers have made starts for the Jays, and the team’s innings pitched per start is fourth-worst in the majors. Meanwhile, the bullpen has been very average, ranking in the middle of the pack in metrics like win probability added.
The Blue Jays’ pitching is likely the reason they haven’t been able create some space between themselves and the Yankees, who they are 6-3 against. Toronto’s longest win streak of the season in three, which has happened three times. They’ll need to put together longer streaks in order to keep climbing above .500 and grab a Wild Card spot this year.
|Player||Position||Injury||Roster Status||Estimated Return|
|Alejandro Kirk||C||Strained hip flexor||60-day IL||July|
|Danny Jansen||C||Strained hamstring||10-day IL||This week|
|George Springer||CF||Strained quad||10-day IL||Next week|
|Thomas Hatch||RHP||Elbow discomfort||60-day IL||Late June|
|Steven Matz||LHP||COVID-19||COVID-19 IL||TBD|
|Patrick Murphy||RHP||Sprained shoulder||60-day IL||Next week|
Spotlight: Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
Any way you slice it, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is the league’s best hitter this season. Whether you prefer wRC+ (206), DRC+ (171), or OPS+ (211), the 22 year-old stands alone atop all leaderboards. The same goes for more traditional stats, too. Vlad Jr. currently leads the American League in all three triple crown categories (.346 batting average, 22 homers, 56 RBIs). It took him a couple of seasons to adjust to big league pitching, but he’s here now.
Guerrero Jr. has always hit the ball hard, but this season, he’s taken the extra leap. His average exit velocity of 95.3 MPH is up from an already excellent 92.5 from a year ago. That average mark is second to Aaron Judge’s 96.9 in all of the majors, by the way. And as you’d expect from a guy with the ridiculous stats cited in the previous paragraph and high exit velocities to boot, his Statcast page is a sea of red:
The one non-red offensive category is Guerrero’s whiff rate. This, oddly, is in spite of an impressively low 15.4 percent strikeout rate. Typically whiffs and strikeouts go hand-in-hand, but not for Vlad Jr. His propensity to swing-and-miss has jumped this year (from 24.7 percent to 29 percent), but to counter that, he’s also chased fewer pitches off the plate. His chase rate has dipped from 28.9 percent as a rookie, to 24.6 percent last year, to 20.4 percent this season. That’ll do.
Toronto’s young slugger is the leading vote-getter on the All-Star ballot thus far, and will get the nod at first base for the American League barring something unforeseen. It probably won’t be his final accolade of 2021, either. The batting crown, Silver Slugger, and MVP awards are all in play.
So, Guerrero offers power, patience, and puts the ball in play at a high clip. What more could you want out of a hitter? I guess for him not to be in the same division as the Yankees, for one. It’s not going to be fun facing off against him this series, let alone for the next decade.
- Marcus Semien, 2B (.290/.354/.521, 138 wRC+) — He should get a nice payday in free agency this winter.
- Bo Bichette, SS (.280/.327/.489) — One of four Blue Jays with 13 homers or more and one of five in double digits.
- Vladimir Guerrero Jr., 1B (.346/.451/.697, 206 wRC+) — Making a very strong case to win the MVP.
- Teoscar Hernández, RF (.295/.346/.484, 127 wRC+) — Has 10 homers but power (.193 ISO) is down compared to .247 mark entering the season.
- Randal Grichuk, CF (.269/.300/.486. 112 wRC+) — 16 homers vs. the Yankees in his career, including two this season.
- Rowdy Tellez, DH (.216/.276/.351, 71 wRC+) — Started season hitless in first 23 plate appearances, but has a .257/.311/.416 (98 wRC+) since.
- Lourdes Gurriel Jr., LF (.263/.284/.396, 83 wRC+) — Has a 140 wRC+ in June
- Cavan Biggio, 3B (.225/.331/.380, 96 wRC+) — Returned from injured list last week (back injury).
- Reese McGuire, C (.212/.281/.308, 65 wRC+) — Catcher position has been a black hole for Toronto, especially with Alejandro Kirk sidelined.
- Riley Adams, C (.071/.133/.143, -25 wRC+) — Had a 166 wRC+ in 78 Triple-A plate appearances
- Joe Panik, INF (.281/.300/.406, 91 wRC+) — Mostly has played third this season (due to Biggio’s injury), but has also seen time at second and first.
- Jonathan Davis, OF (.147/.289/.206, 50 wRC+) — Primarily a defensive replacement as the lone true center fielder on the roster.
Tonight, 7:07pm eastern:
LHP Jordan Montgomery
Monty surrendered three runs in 4.2 innings against Toronto on May 27th, his lone start against them this season. Toronto hitters have a .931 OPS against the Yankees’ lefty, who enters this start with a 3.99 ERA. (Stats vs. Blue Jays)
LHP Hyun Jin Ryu
Toronto’s ace has faced the Yankees twice this year and has allowed three runs (two earned) in 12 innings in those games. He hasn’t been his vintage self this season, but a 3.34 ERA and 3.57 FIP isn’t too shabby. (Stats vs. Yankees)
Tomorrow, 7:07pm eastern:
RHP Gerrit Cole
Like Ryu, Cole has faced his upcoming opponent twice in 2021. In those games, Toronto’s plated 3 runs in 11.1 innings against the Yankees’ ace. Cole’s coming off a strong start against Minnesota while under spin rate scrutiny. (Stats vs. Blue Jays)
RHP Ross Stripling
Stripling gave up four runs in 5.2 innings against Boston his last time out, but does have a 2.38 ERA in his last four games (that Red Sox outing included). The Yankees tagged Stripling for 3 runs in 3.1 frames back on April 3rd. (Stats vs. Yankees)
Thursday, 7:07pm eastern:
RHP Michael King
This will be King’s fourth turn in the rotation this season, all since Corey Kluber’s injury. King owns a 6.35 ERA in 11.1 innings as a starter vs. 2.29 in 19.2 innings in relief. You may recall King’s six innings of one-hit ball in relief against Toronto early this season. (Stats vs. Blue Jays)
No official word yet, but it’s plausible that top prospect Nate Pearson could get the start in this one. He threw five scoreless at Triple-A last Thursday. Other options include Thomas Hatch and TJ Zeuch. Those two started on Friday and Saturday, respectively, and could go too.
|Tim Mayza (L)||4|
|Carl Edwards Jr.|