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Red Sox vs. Blue Jays Series Preview

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

MLB: JUL 21 Red Sox at Blue Jays Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

SB Nation Blog

Bluebird Banter

The opponent in one sentence

The Blue Jays are still hanging around the wildcard race thanks to their high-powered offense, but a recent skid is threatening to put them on the periphery.

Record

49-46

Head-to-head record

Red Sox 7, Blue Jays 4

Trend

Down. The Jays got off to a good start in this second half, winning all three games immediately after the break against the Rangers. But since then, it’s been tough going. They dropped both games they played against the Red Sox last week, and then over the weekend they lost two of three to the Mets, making it four losses in their last five games overall.

Pitching Matchups

7/26: Nick Pivetta vs. TBD, 7:10 PM ET (ESPN for out-of-market)

As the Red Sox starters make their final turn through the rotation before the trade deadline, where there could be someone displaced by a new face (though I’m not really expecting it), Pivetta gets the first go-around against the Blue Jays. The righty’s last start also came against Toronto, and there Pivetta did give up a lot of hits, but all of the real damage came in one inning of work. He was able to make it into the seventh inning, allowing four runs total. After an extremely hot start to the year, he’s been a bit more of a rollercoaster of late, and while you’ll likely be disappointed if you’re looking for top-of-the-rotation effectiveness, the stuff has been good enough to allow him to keep the Red Sox in most games, even if the command comes and goes. The one way he’s been truly susceptible to blow up outings is with the long ball, so as long as he keeps the ball in the yard — easier said than done against this Blue Jays lineup — he should get solid results.

As of this writing early Monday afternoon, there are no official starters named for the Blue Jays, so we’ll look at projected starters from FanGraphs. The issue is they also don’t have a projected starter. Alek Manoah was scheduled to start this game, but he has since hit the injured list. My assumption is that Thomas Hatch will get the call for this one. Hatch has not pitched in the majors yet this year, making his major-league debut in 2020. Last season he mostly pitched out of the bullpen, ending the year with a 2.73 ERA over 26 13 innings, striking out 23 and walking 13. The righty has a solid three-pitch mix, and while the stuff/command combination isn’t good enough to make him truly special, he’s certainly good enough to carve out a back-end starting job at some point.

Boston Red Sox v Toronto Blue Jays Photo by Kevin Hoffman/Getty Images

7/27: Garrett Richards vs. TBD, 7:10 PM ET (MLB Network for out-of-market)

It’s possible we’ll be watching one of the last starts for Richards of the season on Tuesday, as the righty figures to be the first of the original five-man group to leave the rotation. Whether that comes with a new trade acquisition or when Chris Sale returns is a different question. Richards, to his credit, did look sharper his last time out than he has in over a month, at least in the early going. His stuff just hasn’t been intimidating, but we saw more movement on the secondaries that time around. However, even in that start he ultimately allowed three home runs to this Blue Jays lineup, and really looked like he was done after about five, though he almost got through six. At this point, Richards is still fine to keep the Red Sox in games most of the time out, but there’s not a lot of ceiling here anymore.

FanGraphs projects Robbie Ray to make this start, which would not be great news for the Red Sox. A free agent addition last winter, the southpaw has out-performed expectations and his contract by a country mile already this season, serving as the top pitcher in this rotation so far in 2021. Ray has pitched to a 3.12 ERA, showing off the same kind of elite stuff he always has but with well above-average control that has seemingly come out of nowhere. The good news, however, is that he can be undone with the long ball, and the Red Sox did just that last week. They smashed three homers off Ray in Buffalo, knocking him out after five innings with four runs on the board. It was the first time he’d allowed that many runs in a start since May 27, and only the third time all season. Ray will lean most heavily on his fastball and slider, while also throwing the occasional curveball and changeup.

7/28: Tanner Houck vs. TBD, 7:10 PM ET

Every time Tanner Houck comes up in conversation, I can’t help but lower expectations and maintain my stance that, ultimately, I think he is a reliever. Granted, I think he can be an outstanding reliever, and potentially a closer, but until I see more growth on his splitter I have trouble imagining a different path. And then I see starts like the last one where the command on his slider was so impeccable that it didn’t really matter what his splitter looked like, because he could get out hitters of any handedness with the breaking ball. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I still think he’s a reliever long-term, but I’m also more excited to watch him start than anyone else on his staff, so I’m glad he’s still starting. As for this start in particular, it will be very interesting to see how he handles such a powerful group, though the righty-heavy makeup of Toronto’s offense should help.

Here, the projection is for Steven Matz to get the ball. The lefty is a long-time Mets starter who was dealt to the Blue Jays this winter (for Josh Winckowski, who of course ended up coming to Boston in the Andrew Benintendi deal), and it’s been a solid first year in Toronto. Matz is pitching to a 4.34 ERA, which is not great, but his peripherals are a little better. It’s also worth mentioning that, like Ray, Matz’s biggest issue has been the long ball, and it’s hard not to put at least some of that on the fact that they’d been playing their home games in minor-league parks. That said, Matz has really been all over the place for most of this season, and really seems to be having a year similar in flow to that of Nick Pivetta. There’s a chance for a great outing every time, but also a chance he only makes it through two or three innings.

7/29: Eduardo Rodriguez vs. TBD, 7:10 PM ET (MLB Network for out-of-market)

For now at least, the plan is still for Rodriguez to make this start in the series finale after leaving his last outing early due to migraine symptoms. It’s really hard to pin down exactly what to expect in this situation as migraines can happen for so many reasons, and you never really know when they’ll strike again. That said, if the Red Sox send him back out on Thursday I’d certainly expect they’d have done their due diligence. The hope is that he can pick up right where he left off in his first start of the second half, when he looked like the second half version of his 2019 self. But right now, we’re mostly in wait and see mode with Rodriguez after his previous early exit.

Hyun-Jin Ryu gets the projected start for this outing, and he entered the season not only as Toronto’s best starting pitcher, but perhaps the most underrated great starting pitcher in all of baseball. He’s taken a little bit of a step back this season, but that step back has really just been from great to very good. The southpaw has pitched to a 3.44 ERA, and while his strikeout stuff has gotten worse and he’s allowing more home runs — though, again, the home parks factor in here — he still has elite control. The low point in his season came when the calendar was turning from June to July, but he’s recovered in his last three starts with a 2.20 ERA to go with 15 strikeouts and four walks over 16 13 innings.

Old Friends

Ed. Note: Much of the rest of this post is copied/pasted from last week’s series preview, as not much has changed since then.

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.

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 a good amount of him. He makes a good amount of contact, but that’s about it.

Toronto Blue Jays v New York Mets Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

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-3.00 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.

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. He’s just recently started taking BP again.

Alek Manoah was scratched his last scheduled start against the Red Sox, and now hits the injured list with a back issue.

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.

Danny Jansen hurt himself last week against Boston, and will need to spend a decent chunk of time on the injured list with a hamstring injury.

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.

Anthony Castro was just put on the injured list about a week ago with an elbow injury, and he isn’t expected to miss much time.

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 weather looks like it should be nice this week at Fenway. As of now, Thursday appears to be the only potentially iffy day weather-wise.


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