SB Nation Blog
The Opponent in one sentence
The Blue Jays were slept on a bit heading into the season but they’re off to a hot start on the back of an offense that is performing better than anyone expected particularly considering they are without their best player.
Down. The Blue Jays were among the hottest teams in baseball prior to last weekend, but they had a tough time in New York losing three out of four to the Yankees. That was just their second series loss of the year, with the other also coming at the hands of the Yankees in the first series of the season. Prior to this recent series loss Toronto had one four in a row (in a stretch that included three straight postponements) and seven of eight.
4/24: Rick Porcello vs. J.A. Happ, 7:07 PM ET
Porcello has been incredible to start the 2018 season and he’ll look to continue that on Tuesday in the series opener. The 2016 Cy Young award winner is bring back the command from that award-winning campaign and he’s getting back to a two-seam-headed attack. It’s clearly working for him so far, and as it usually goes with him it’s being done with a ton of control. Through 25 2⁄3 innings he has issued just one free pass. Porcello is also coming off his second straight outing in which his opponent failed to score a run and those came against strong offensive clubs in the Yankees and Angels. Last season the righty faced Toronto four times and he pitched to a 4.74 ERA over 24 2⁄3 innings with 23 strikeouts and six walks while allowing six homers.
Porcello was one of the most surprising Cy Young winners of all time in that 2016 season, which overshadowed the fact that Happ was also one of the most surprising Cy Young candidates that same season. The lefty’s resumé was built on his 20 wins, but he was really impressive overall that season and has quietly been one of the more solid pitchers in the game for three years in a row. Happ’s game has also been evolving, as he’s allowing more ground balls in recent years while also missing more bats. When he gets into trouble, much like Porcello, it comes in the form of the long ball. Happ pitched to a 1.90 ERA over four starts and 23 2⁄3 innings last season with 16 strikeouts and nine walks, and he features a low-to-mid-90s fastball, a sinker and a slider.
4/25: Eduardo Rodriguez vs. Aaron Sanchez, 7:07 PM ET
Rodriguez is getting set to make his fourth start since returning from the disabled list, and much like most of his career it’s been a mixed bag. His first start was inefficient and ultimately not great, but he did show off strong stuff. His second start was outstanding all-around, and his third start was solid though with some command problems here and there. He’ll look to have another outstanding start this time around (obviously) against a team with some strong hitters from the right side. As we’ve talked about a million times, Rodriguez has the talent to be a true midrotation starter for a playoff team, he just needs to get the consistency down. The lefty made two starts and one relief appearance against Toronto last year and over 12 1⁄3 innings he allowed five runs (3.65 ERA) he struck out 18 strikeouts and five walks.
A couple of years ago Sanchez was one of the biggest breakouts in the game as a 23-year-old, but he didn’t get a chance to repeat that last year because of injuries. He’s healthy and on the mound again this season and he’s been solid to start 2018. The righty hasn’t really been dominant, but he also hasn’t had a blow-up outing either. The strikeouts also haven’t really been there for Sanchez, as he’s instead relying on ground balls and weak contact. If the Red Sox can wait for pitches to hit and get them in the air, they should have some success against the righty but he has the talent to put up a strong night as well. The Red Sox did face Sanchez once in 2017 and they scored five runs (three earned) with two strikeouts and five walks. The Blue Jays starter features a pair of mid-90s fastaballs (a four-seamer and a sinker) along with a changeup and a curveball.
4/25: Chris Sale vs. Marco Estrada, 7:07 PM ET
Thursday is Sale Day, and for the love of god can we get a run or at least a damn hit please? Much like last year, the Red Sox ace is putting forth great outing after great outing but he just cannot get a dang win. Of course, as we’ve discussed, he has been a bit off compared to his high standards to start the year. It isn’t showing at all in the results or even the peripherals, but it does seem by the ol’ eye test that the velocity is inconsistent and the command hasn’t been as sharp at all times as it was at his best in 2017. This isn’t really something that we should be worrying too much about at this point, but I think it’s worth watching at least. Sale was absurd against Toronto last season, pitching to a 1.67 ERA over 27 innings with 43 strikeouts and four walks. What?!
Like Happ, Estrada was one of the more underrated pitchers in the game for his first couple years in Toronto, but over the last two years the results have matched the perception. The righty is one of the most extreme flyball pitchers in all of baseball, which leads to low BABIPs at his best and a lot of homers at his worst. This year, there have been a lot of homers, 2.5 per nine innings to be exact. He’s coming off a tough two-game stretch in which he’s allowed nine runs in nine innings including his last outing against the Yankees in which he allowed three home runs. The Red Sox scored ten runs (nine earned) over 19 2⁄3 innings (4.12 ERA) with 15 strikeouts and 13 walks. Estrada is mostly a fastball/changeup pitcher with his fastball in the high-80s and low-90s.
None. Stupid Blue Jays.
Notable Position Players
Justin Smoak is probably the best hitter in the Blue Jays lineup right now with another star on the disabled list (more on that later), and he unsurprisingly leads the team in plate appearances. The power hasn’t really been there, but that will come. In the meantime, he’s drawing a ton of walks and keeping his strikeout rate in an acceptable range.
Curtis Granderson has been a platoon player for the Blue Jays mainly playing against righties, but he’s been very good while he’s playing. His .406 BABIP is not sustainable, but he’s drawing a ton of walks and hitting for power that should be sustainable as long as his matchups stay favorable.
Teoscar Hernandez has quietly become one of the more exciting young outfielders in the American League with an aggressive approach and tremendous bat-to-ball skills.
Yangervis Solarte was an offseason trade acquisition and he’s off to an outstanding start in Toronto. He plays all over the infield and so far at the plate he’s drawing more walks than strikeouts, hitting for power and getting hits when he puts the ball in play.
Russell Martin is still the starting catcher in Toronto but he’s well past his prime at this point with little power and a ton of swing and miss.
Kevin Pillar is off to a strong start at the plate thanks to a high BABIP but his best quality is still his plus defense in center field.
Kendrys Morales has struggled out of the gate as Toronto’s designated hitter as he hasn’t hit for the power he’s capable of.
Aledmys Diaz was another offseason trade acquisition and has been playing regularly with Troy Tulowitzki down with injury. He’s making contact and hitting for power, but a sub-.200 BABIP is holding back his overall numbers.
Devon Travis is healthy for the first time in a while but he also has a wRC+ of 9.
Randall Grichuk was yet another offseason trade acquisition and while his ability to hit the ball hard is intriguing he strikes out a ton and the power hasn’t translated to Toronto like the Blue Jays would have hoped.
Steve Pearce is one of the better and more underrated platoon bats in the league as he can crush lefties. Expect to see him play prominently in this series with the Red Sox throwing out two left-handed pitchers.
Lourdes Gurriel is Yulieski’s younger brother and most scouts agree that he is the more talented sibling. He was just recently called up and doesn’t have an everyday role just yet, though it wouldn’t be terribly shocking if he usurped Travis at some point.
Roberto Osuna is perhaps the most underrated reliever in all of baseball and I don’t really understand why. He’s only 23 years old but still has three years of dominant relief work under his belt and he’s yet to allow a run so far in 2018. If the Red Sox are behind in a close game in the ninth inning this week they’ll have some trouble mounting a comeback.
The set-up men behind Osuna has been an issue for Toronto in recent years, but they have a solid group of righties in the late innings this year. None of Ryan Tepera, Seung-hwan Oh or Danny Barnes are household names and none of the will truly blow you away, but more often than not they are going to get the job done in the late innings.
The Blue Jays don’t have a truly dominant lefty in their bullpen, but Aaron Loup is solid and has been good at shutting down opposing lefties over his career, though he’s off to a rough start this year.
Josh Donaldson was dealing with shoulder injuries all spring and after trying to play through it for a little bit to start the year he ultimately landed on the disabled list. The upcoming free agent and face of this franchise shouldn’t be out too long, though there aren’t any indications at this point that he’ll be back for this series.
Troy Tulowitzki has, of course, had injury problems throughout his career and he’s currently on the 60-day disabled list after undergoing surgery on both heels. I’ve...literally never heard of that. He can’t come back until at least late-May.
Weather isn’t a major issue here since the Blue Jays have a retractable roof, but ideally they play with the roof open. It’s going to be sunny but a bit on the chilly side for the first game, and the last two games will be marred by rain and clouds. I’d expect at least one game with the roof open, though there’s a chance it’ll be closed for all three contests.