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Red Sox at Blue Jays Series Preview

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A look at this week’s three-game set against the Blue Jays

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Toronto Blue Jays v Boston Red Sox Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

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Bluebird Banter

The opponent in one sentence

The Blue Jays have long been the up-and-coming squad in the AL East, and they are right on the Red Sox tails this year having success both on the mound and at the plate.

Record

22-17

Head-to-head record

Red Sox 1, Blue Jays 1

Trend

Up. The Blue Jays were kind of skidding along early in the year, not really falling out of it but also not exactly surging. Of late, they’ve been playing much better and putting themselves near the forefront of the conversation in the AL. They are coming off a series win against the Phillies, which came right after a sweep of the Braves. Overall, they’ve won five of six and six of eight.

Pitching Matchups

5/18: Eduardo Rodriguez vs. TBD, 7:37 PM ET

If you’re just looking at ERA with Rodriguez, you’ll get the impression that it has been a fine season for the lefty but nothing really too special. The peripherals have told a different story, though, and it’s hard to have more confidence in any Red Sox starter than Rodriguez right now. Even without always having his best fastball he’s been able to control the zone well, including his last time out with nine strikeouts and just one walk. The issue is that when he’s not striking guys out he’s giving up hits, and it’s not as though it’s all been bad luck. In each of his last two starts he’s allowed three doubles, and the last time out he also gave up a home run. This is a Blue Jays lineup that can hit the ball hard, so look for Rodriguez to work the edges a little more, even if it means a couple more walks than usual. He got a win over the Jays earlier this year, allowing two runs over six innings.

The Blue Jays have not yet officially announced a starter, but it seems like Hyun-Jin Ryu should get the start. The ace of their staff, he's on schedule for this start, though the Red Sox wouldn’t mind missing him. Toronto’s southpaw is one of the more underrated pitchers in the game, as he’s been legitimately elite when healthy for four years now. He’s right back on that level this year, with a 2.95 ERA through his first seven starts this year. Home runs have been a bit more of an issue for him than in the past, but generally he’s the same as always, putting up good strikeout numbers with elite control. The Red Sox did get to him earlier this year, though, scoring four runs in five innings. Ryu will often pitch off his changeup while also throwing a high-80s fastball, a cutter and a curveball.

Oakland Athletics v Boston Red Sox Photo by Omar Rawlings/Getty Images

5/19: Garrett Richards vs. Ross Stripling, 7:37 PM ET (NESN+)

The Red Sox have had a few players who have turned things around after a slow start, but no one has done so to the extent of Richards. The righty has looked like two different pitchers this year, coming off a bad spring with a terrible string of starts to begin the year. Even some of the starts that didn’t look terrible by the numbers were slogs with his command being all over the place. More recently, he’s thrived. Over his last four outings he’s pitched to a 2.16 ERA over 25 innings with 26 strikeouts and only five walks. It’s that walk number that remains the most important, as he walked 13 over his first four starts. That final start in that bad stretch was against Toronto, when he walked six over 4 23 innings, allowing four runs in the process.

Stripling came over from the Dodgers at the trade deadline last year, and the righty has put up solid peripherals but the results haven’t exactly followed suit. This season he has pitched to a 5.91 ERA, more than a run and a half worse than his FIP. He’s striking out a ton of batters to the tune of nearly 11 per nine innings, but there have been issues with command. Home runs specifically have been in issue as he’s allowed one in four of his five starts, and this comes without going deep into games. Stripling has yet to go more than five innings in a start. He’s coming off a strong outing, though, striking out nine and walking only one over five innings against the Braves. Stripling will feature a low-90s fastball to go with a curveball, a slider, and a changeup.

5/20: Nick Pivetta vs. Steven Matz, 7:37 PM ET (MLB Network for out-of-market)

Pivetta has been the story of the year for the Red Sox as he came into the season with very little in the way of expectations but he’s been holding steady in the rotation, not just getting by but actively pitching well. And it seems like he’s getting better as the season goes on. The righty is pitching how he wants to this year, working at a quick pace, working up in the zone with his fastball and mixing in more sliders than ever. As a result, he’s sitting with a 3.16 ERA, and he’s coming off a really strong outing in which he allowed just two runs over six innings with seven strikeouts and no walks. The no walks is the most important factor here, as control was a big issue looming over his success earlier in the year. If he can continue to pitch like this without the walks, there’s another level for him to reach.

Matz was another recent acquisition by the Blue Jays, as they got him from the Mets in a trade this past winter. The southpaw has been a solid back-end guy for them this year, going at least five innings in all but one of his eight starts this season with a 4.29 ERA. His peripherals are solid with a good walk rate and over a strikeout per inning, but home runs have always been an issue and have been this year as well. The Red Sox should be looking for mistakes early and often and try to get some big swings when they get opportunities to do damage. Matz will feature a fastball in the mid-90s along with a changeup, a curveball and a slider.

Old Friends

Santiago Espinal was sent to Toronto in a minor deal at the deadline in 2018, bringing Steve Pearce to Boston. Espinal has turned into a solid depth player for the Blue Jays, but I think the Red Sox are happy with how that deal turned out.

Toronto Blue Jays v Houston Astros
Santiago Espinal
Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

Joel Payamps never actually played for the Red Sox, but he was a waiver claim early last offseason, then went to Toronto on waivers, before coming back to the Red Sox on waivers, before again going to Toronto, again on waivers. It was a weird winter for him.

Notable Position Players

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is making good on his enormous potential this year. Some people were prematurely writing him off after a couple of seasons in which he was more fine than great, but he’s shutting them up now. Guerrero Jr. has more walks than strikeouts while hitting for big-time power, making him one of the very best hitters in baseball for the first portion of this season.

Bo Bichette has been a big part of this lineup as well. He doesn’t have the great plate discipline so far to take him into the upper echelon of hitters, but he crushes the ball on a regular basis and is a threat to do damage every time he comes up.

Teoscar Hernández is coming off a big breakout season in 2020 and he’s showing he wasn’t a one-hit wonder. The power has been more good than great, but he’s shown solid plate discipline and he’s getting a bunch of hits to drop in.

Marcus Semien has been a strong addition for the Blue Jays as he looks to get back to his near-MVP level from 2019. He hasn’t been quite that good, but he’s hitting for power and has formed a nice one-two punch with Bichette at the top of the lineup.

Cavan Biggio has really struggled to get going this year. He’ll draw a ton of walks, but so far he’s striking out too much and not hitting for enough power to go with the patience.

Randal Grichuk has been solid in the middle of the Blue Jays lineup, cutting down on his strikeouts and putting up a solid batting average to give him an above-average line overall.

Lourdes Gurriel Jr. has been brutal so far this year, barely drawing any walks while boasting almost non-existent power.

Rowdy Tellez has also had a terrible start to his season, though facing the Red Sox is often a remedy for his slumps.

Danny Jansen has been the worst hitter in this lineup with a 22 wRC+, which makes him among the worst hitters in the game this season.

Bullpen Snapshot

Jordan Romano has emerged as the closer for the banged up Blue Jays bullpen of late, though he only has one save. No active player has more than one. Romano will miss bats and he gets grounders, though he can be beat with some patience as he loses the zone at times.

Tyler Chatwood has taken well to the bullpen, ditching the control issues that plagued him as a starter and dominating to the tune of a 0.61 ERA and 1.29 FIP in 13 appearances this year.

Injuries

George Springer has been dealing with injuries all year in this first season with the Blue Jays, currently nursing a quad injury. He’s starting to run, though, so his return shouldn’t be too far off.

Kirby Yates was another big addition this winter, but he underwent Tommy John before the season and will miss the entire year.

Julian Merrweather has been dealing with an oblique injury, and things have not progressed as the Jays had hoped. He was transferred to the 60-day injured list, so he’ll be out for at least another month or so, if not longer.

Rafael Dolis left a game earlier this month with a calf injury, but the timeline for return is not clear.

Joe Panik also left with a calf issue earlier this month, and likewise has not timetable.

Alejandro Kirk suffered a hip injury early in the month and was later shifted to the 60-day injured list, meaning he’ll be out until at least early July.

Anthony Castro went down with a forearm strain at the start of this month, and there’s no timetable for his return.

Ryan Borucki just recently went down last week with a forearm issue of his own.

Thomas Hatch has been down since the middle of camp with an elbow issue, and it’s not clear when he’ll be able to start throwing again.

Patrick Murphy has been dealing with shoulder issues since the beginning of camp and has not been able to start throwing again.

Tommy Milone went down with a shoulder injury in the first week of May.

David Phelps suffered a lat strain a few weeks ago and he’ll be out for a couple of months.

Weather Forecast

It should be a great week of baseball weather down in Florida, albeit likely with some humidity. But temperatures should be in the mid-80s for all three first pitches, and there shouldn’t be any rain in play either.


A big thank you to FanGraphs, and particularly their Roster Resource tool, as well as Baseball Savant for research.