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Red Sox at Blue Jays Series Preview

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A look at this week’s three-game set in Buffalo.

Bosron Red Sox vs Toronto Blue Jays Staff Photo By Matt Stone/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald

SB Nation Blog

Bluebird Banter

The opponent in one sentence

The Blue Jays are on the verge of being able to play in Canada again — though not yet for this series — and they should head north of the border with a real chance at a playoff berth led by a strong core in their lineup.

Record

48-42

Head-to-head record

Red Sox 5, Blue Jays 4

Trend

Up, sort of. The Blue Jays weren’t playing their best baseball heading into the break, having lost four of their last six including a series loss to the Rays immediately before All-Star week. That said, they had a nice first weekend of the second half, taking all three games they played against the Rangers. And after taking the final game of the first half, they have won four in a row total.

Pitching Matchups

7/19: Nick Pivetta vs. Ross Stripling, 7:07 PM ET

Pivetta served as one of the biggest surprises on the Red Sox over the course of the first half, working around some command issues that came and went with mostly consistent good stuff that missed bats. More recently, however, the righty has been a bit of a roller coaster. If we go back four starts, he was dominant, but then followed it up with a rough one. He came back with perhaps his best outing of the year, before finishing off the first half with five runs being allowed to his former club, the Phillies, over just four innings of work. As a back-end arm, the Red Sox don’t necessarily need consistency from Pivetta, though they need someone of the Pivetta/Garrett Richards/Martín Pérez group to step it up. Pivetta has shown the talent, but it’s just about finding that command on a start-to-start basis. Toronto’s lineup has proven challenging to the righty all year, however, as he’s allowed 11 runs (10 earned) over 10 innings of work, with one of the outings also including four homers.

Philadelphia Phillies v Boston Red Sox Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

The Red Sox offense has been struggling of late, and hopefully a meeting with Stripling will be what they need to get back on track. The righty is certainly not a bat pitcher, and he can rack up strikeouts at a fairly high rate. That said, he also gives up a whole lot of hard contact and specifically has some issues with the long ball. He’s coming off an outing to end the first half in which he allowed three homers, and he’s dished up at least one in each of his last six starts. The Red Sox have seen him twice this year and have hit a combined four homers, scoring 10 runs over 9 13 innings, striking out nine times with two walks. This game will be all about taking advantage of mistakes. Stripling features a low-90s fastball to go with a curveball, slider and changeup.

7/20: Garrett Richards vs. Alek Manoah, 7:07 PM ET

I mentioned a roller coaster in reference to what Pivetta has done of late, but that is nothing compared to the season as a whole for Richards. That ride started way back in spring training when he had zero command, then continued with a shaky start, followed by a great run, followed by a bit of a cool down but still with good results, followed by disaster striking when the sticky stuff crackdown began, and now he’s settled in somewhere in between. The veteran has changed things up since his performance really fell off a cliff in early June, but he’s still not missing bats and seems to be getting results despite his lack of stuff. This is a Blue Jays lineup that will punish bad pitches, so this will be the first true test of whether the new Richards can keep up with the best offenses in the league. This will be his fourth matchup against Toronto this year, and in the first three he’s allowed 10 runs over 16 23 innings (5.40 ERA) with 10 strikeouts and 12 walks.

Manoah entered the season as one of the top prospects in the Blue Jays system, and he’s filled a big hole in the rotation since being called up. The righty has pitched to a 2.90 ERA over his first eight starts of his career, working around some shaky command at times thanks to big-time stuff. There is a danger in falling behind a guy with a 31 percent strikeout rate, but the Red Sox should be patient and wait for either mistakes or walks, because he’s shown they will come at times. The Red Sox have seen him once this year, scoring only one run across six innings with five strikeouts and one walk. The righty will feature a pair of fastballs, both sitting in the 92-95 range, to go with a slider and a changeup.

7/21: Tanner Houck vs. TBD, 7:07 PM ET

It’s going to be really interesting to see what the plan for Houck is here as a sixth starter. We’ve seen the righty once already since being called up when he came out and earned a three-inning save on Friday, but since coming back from the injured list he hasn’t really thrown a ton of innings. He’s still hesitant with his splitter, though he did throw a few in that aforementioned save. Still, unless he makes it a real part of his repertoire he’ll struggle against lefties and to make it deep into games. He’s better set up right now for a straight relief role, and while it makes sense to go with a six-man rotation for this long stretch, I do wonder if he’ll be piggybacked in some form with Garrett Whitlock, or someone else.

The Blue Jays have not yet announced a starter for this season, though it seems as though Robbie Ray should be the guy for this start. If so, Boston will be going up against Toronto’s ace, a lefty who has totally reinvented himself this year. Ray has always been able to miss bats at an elite clip out of a starter’s role, but he’s never really been able to put it all together due major control problems. But this year, he’s lowered his walk rate to just over six percent, his first time even down to single digits since 2016. Hopefully the Jays not announcing a starter will mean the Red Sox get to avoid Ray.

Old Friends

Santiago Espinal never actually made it to Boston, but he was traded as a prospect in exchange for Steve Pearce. While that trade worked out extremely well for the Red Sox and they would never want to redo it, Espinal has ascended to being a solid bench piece for this Toronto team.

Texas Rangers v Toronto Blue Jays - Game 1 Photo by Bryan M. Bennett/Getty Images

Notable Position Players

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. would be the MVP favorite in a world without Shohei Ohtani. Instead, he’ll have to settle for being one of the very best hitters in baseball. Guerrero has mammoth power that is almost unmatched throughout baseball, and combines it with impeccable plate discipline. It’s about trying to slow him down, not stop him.

Marcus Semien has been one of the best signings from this past winter, showing big power at the top of this Blue Jays lineup with solid on-base ability as well.

Bo Bichette isn’t going to draw a whole lot of walks, and he’ll strike out around an average clip. But when he makes contact, he hits it hard almost every time, resulting in a lot of damage.

George Springer missed big chunks of time early in the year, but he’s back now and looking to find his footing. The power and patience has been there, but he’s striking out a lot.

Teoscar Hernández is getting some help from a high BABIP this year, but he’s also helping himself with hard contact and plenty of power.

Randal Grichuk will swing at just about anything, but he’s making a lot of contact this year to tap into his raw power and put up solid produciton in the bottom half of this lineup.

Cavan Biggio will draw a ton of walks, but he’s not hitting for enough power nor making enough contact to really tie the whole package together.

Lourdes Gurriel Jr. got off to a terrible start but has been much better with the onset of summer, putting up a 131 wRC+ in June and a 114 mark so far in July.

Reese McGuire is in a platoon, but with the Red Sox throwing three righties this week he should see at least two starts. He makes a good amount of contact, but that’s about it.

Bullpen Snapshot

Jordan Romano has been tremendous late in games for Toronto this year, striking batters out and keeping the ball on the ground to work around some occasional control issues for a sub-2.00 ERA.

Tim Mayza has terrific control and an even better ground ball rate than Romano, though he doesn’t miss the same number of bats. Still, he’s a tough lefty to face late in games.

Adam Cimber is a recent acquisition from the Marlins, and he can be extremely tough on right-handed batters.

Injuries

Kirby Yates never actually got to pitch for the Jays, undergoing Tommy John surgery before the season began which will keep him out all year.

Alejandro Kirk had seemingly been cleared to return but he hasn’t actually been called back up to the majors quite yet.

Corey Dickerson came over in the same trade that brought Cimber to the Jays, but he hasn’t been able to play yet as he continues to recover from a foot injury.

Julian Merryweather has been out for most of this season with an oblique injury, and a recent setback will keep him out for at least a couple more weeks.

Tyler Chatwood hit the injured list with a neck strain in early July, and it’s not clear when he’ll be back.

David Phelps went down with a lat strain in early May, and ended up needing season-ending surgery.

Tommy Milone has been rehabbing for a few weeks now, but still hasn’t rejoined the big-league squad.

Carl Edwards Jr. suffered an oblique injury in June, and should be out for at least another month or so.

A.J. Cole has been out since June with a neck injury of his own, and he’s looking at a post-trade deadline return.

Weather Forecast

The bookends of this series shouldn’t provide any issues, but Tuesday night could pose something of a problem. There are thunderstorms currently in the forecast around the time of first pitch, so at least a delay could be on the table


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