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Series Preview: Red Sox vs. Blue Jays

A look ahead to the last series before the All-Star Break

MLB: Toronto Blue Jays at Boston Red Sox Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

SB Nation Blog

Bluebird Banter

The Opponent in one sentence

The Blue Jays have not been able to stick around in the American League East after a hot start due to poor pitching and a lineup that has just been about average.



Head-to-Head Record

Red Sox 7, Blue Jays 2


Down. The Blue Jays, much like the Rangers, actually finished off the month of June fairly strong, but things have changed since the calendar turned over to July. This month, Toronto has lost six of nine games and is yet to win a series. In fact, it’s last series victory was against the Nationals in a three-game set that started on June 15.

Pitching Matchups

7/12: David Price vs. J.A. Happ, 7:10 PM ET

Price is feeling the heat on a Red Sox team that is otherwise feeling nothing but love from the fan base. Price has always had something of a tenuous relationship with some Sox fans, and that hasn’t been helped by his performance against the Yankees this year. That’s always an issue, and I don’t want it to seem like I’m simply handwaving those struggles, but other than those Yankees starts he had been really good this year. Except, well, he struggled against the Royals last time out, and they have the worst lineup in baseball. He needs to come back with a strong outing against Toronto on Thursday. Or, I guess, it would be neat if he does. He doesn’t need to. I’m not his dad. Price has actually struggled a bit (relatively speaking) against the Blue Jays this year, tossing just 10 13 innings over two starts, allowing four runs (3.48 ERA, which is fine) with 10 strikeouts and seven walks. The results have been fine, but he’s allowing a lot of baserunners.

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Kansas City Royals Peter G. Aiken

Happ is the Toronto’s lone All-Star representative, and it’s expected that he won’t be with the Blue Jays too much longer. One of the top starting pitchers on a weak trade market, he is a prime Yankees target and the Red Sox will want to send a message to him and New York that he won’t help against Boston. It’s easier said than done as the southpaw has legitimate strikeout stuff and solid command. If he’s keeping the ball in the yard, he’s hard to beat, though his 4.44 ERA shows that he’s far from unbeatable. That said, the peripherals tell a different story. Happ dominated the Red Sox back in April when he allowed just one run over seven innings with ten strikeouts and no walks. Boston will need a better effort on Thursday, to say the least. Happ throws a pair of low-90s fastballs along with a slider and a changeup.

7/13: Rick Porcello vs. Ryan Borucki, 7:10 PM ET

Porcello has really had an interesting year that has been somewhat overshadowed by the greatness of Chris Sale and the weirdness of Price. The 2016 Cy Young winner hasn’t been great, to be fair, but he’s been solid all year along and most importantly he’s always a good bet to go deep into the game. In his 19 starts so far this season, Porcello has made it through at least six full innings in 15 of them, and one of the ones he didn’t was his first start of the year when Alex Cora was limiting everyone’s workload. That’s not to say his going deep into games is his only good quality, because Porcello has a 121 ERA+ with almost a strikeout per inning, but the consistent ability to go deep into games is big for this staff, particularly when he pitches between Price and Eduardo Rodriguez. Porcello has faced the Blue Jays twice this year, allowing five runs over 13 innings (3.46 ERA) with 14 strikeouts and five walks.

Borucki is a 24-year-old left-handed pitcher who has just three major-league outings under his belt. The former 15th round pick has had some early success in his career, missing enough bats to get by and limiting his free passes enough. He’s also, most importantly, keeping the ball in the yard. The southpaw has faced Houston, Detroit and New York in his three outings and has gone at least six innings each time out while allowing no more than two runs. That’s....impressive. He may not be a household name, but he’s pitched well against good teams before so this won’t be a cakewalk. Borucki features a 92 mph fastball, a changeup and a slider.

7/14: Eduardo Rodriguez vs. TBD, 1:05 PM ET

Two outings ago in Washington, Rodriguez looked as good as we’ve seen him all year, and really in his career. The lefty was using his changeup aggressively and attacking hitters in every count, something we don’t see too much. Unfortunately, he got back to his old ways the next time out. Granted, it still resulted in a very good outing and it seems that more often than not he’ll put up good results. Instead, it’s a matter of how deep he can pitch into a game and how efficient he can be. Ultimately, for someone who should be the number four pitcher in this rotation if everyone else is pitching to their potential, it’s not the end of the world. Still, it’d be neat if he could consistently find that efficiency. In two starts against the Blue Jays this season Rodriguez has allowed five runs over 13 23 innings (3.29 ERA) with ten strikeouts and two walks.

The Blue Jays have not yet announced who will take the mound on Saturday, but the hope for them is that Marco Estrada will be able to make this start. He’s been struggling with a leg injury and is still testing it out before determining if he’ll be able to go. They don’t want him pitching in Fenway if he’s not 100 percent, particularly given how homer-friendly he can get if his command is not on point. If he does not make this start, I will be honest and say I have no idea who would take the ball instead.

7/15: TBD vs. Marcus Stroman, 1:05 PM ET

The Red Sox are not ready to announce who will make their final start before the All-Star break, though all signs are pointing towards Brian Johnson returning from the disabled list to take the mound on Sunday. The lefty has been really solid since re-joining the rotation, and as solid as Hector Velazquez has been all year and was in his spot start, Johnson is more stretched out and a better option. It’s unclear how many more starts he’ll make after this with Steven Wright and Drew Pomeranz working their way back, but I certainly have more confidence in Johnson than Pomeranz at this point.

Stroman has the talent to be one of the better pitchers in the American League, but this season has been a very disappointing one for the 27-year-old. He’s made only 11 starts this year due to injury, and he’s been bad much of the time pitching to a 5.90 ERA. His strikeout rate is just fine, though that’s par for the course for him. What’s different is that he is allowing more walks this season along with more consistent hard contact. The good news for Toronto is that he’s been better since coming off the disabled list towards the end of June, with three good starts out of four. This will be the first time Boston sees Stroman this year, and he will feature a low-to-mid-90s sinker along with a slider, a cutter and a curveball.

MLB: Texas Rangers at Boston Red Sox Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Old Friends

Santiago Espinal is not someone I’d normally include here, but given that the Steve Pearce just happened I figured I’d check in on the cost to acquire the platoon bat. In High-A Dunedin, the infielder is hitting .214/.267/.405 in 11 games. Do with that what you will.

Notable Position Players

Justin Smoak got off to a slow start this year, but he’s been better lately and is the best hitter in Toronto’s lineup right now. He strikes out a little more than average, but he also walks a ton and hits for power. He’ll be a pest in the middle of this lineup all weekend.

Yangervis Solarte has quietly been a strong pickup for Toronto this year as the super utility player has been one of the team’s most valuable players. He’s struggling with batting average on balls in play, but other than that everything about his game has been impressive.

Teoscar Hernandez doesn’t have the best plate discipline, but that’s not overly surprising for such a relatively inexperienced player. That said, he still has the potential to make an impact this weekend given his very real and very scary power.

Curtis Granderson is going to strike out plenty, but like Smoak he will draw walks and hit for power. Granderson isn’t quite on Smoak’s level, but he’s solid, particularly against right-handed pitching.

Kevin Pillar does not offer much beyond the ability to make contact at the plate, but in the field he is among the very best defensive outfielders in all of baseball.

MLB: New York Yankees at Toronto Blue Jays Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

Russell Martin is not the hitter he once was, and at this point of his career he pretty much just draws walks and provides no other value at the plate.

Randall Grichuk is a more extreme version of Hernandez, and while he makes some loud contact at times it’s been a rough year at the plate.

Lourdes Gurriel is the younger brother of Astros first baseman Yuli Gurriel and was once one of Cuba’s top prospects. He hasn’t had many chances in the majors but he hasn’t made much of the chances he has gotten just yet.

Devon Travis has never been able to stay healthy or perform consistently at the major-league level, though he has the talent to be a solid everyday second baseman.

Bullpen Snapshot

Tyler Clippard is the closer in Toronto’s decimated bullpen, and he’s actually been pretty solid this year. He’s always a threat to lose his command, but he’s done the job more often than not in 2018 and will likely be trade bait later this month.

Seung-hwan Oh and John Axford pair up to take on set-up duties for the Blue Jays. Oh has been mostly good this year with a few blips on his game log while Axford’s inconsistent command has made his season less impressive.

Aaron Loup has been better than his ERA would indicate, but he also has some control issues that can get him in trouble at times. The southpaw is good against lefties, though, and will be used in that role this weekend.


Josh Donaldson has been out since late-May with a hamstring injury and it’s not clear whether or not he’ll make it back before the trade deadline. If healthy, he’d be one of the most exciting trade targets this summer.

Roberto Osuna is one of the best relievers in baseball, but he’s been on the restricted list almost all year due to a domestic assault case against him. He’s set to return from his suspension in August.

Aaron Sanchez is the most exciting pitcher in Toronto’s rotation, but a finger injury has kept him out for a couple of weeks and is likely to keep him out for most of July.

Jaime Garcia is out with a shoulder injury but he could be back right after the All-Star Game.

Troy Tulowitzki has been out all year with a foot injury, but he’s recovering and he still feels he has a chance to return this year.

Ryan Tepera has handled the closing duties for most of Osuna’s absence, but he’s been on the shelf with an elbow injury. Nothing is official as of this writing, but he may be able to return for this series.

Danny Barnes has been out since late June but could return right after the All-Star break.

Rhiner Cruz left his last outing after just one pitch and was placed on the disabled list earlier this week.

Weather Forecast

It’s shaping up to be a very nice weekend in Boston, with the only possible issue being Sunday with thunderstorms potentially being in the area. That’s far enough away that it shouldn’t be a major worry, though.