SB Nation Blog
The opponent in one sentence
The Blue Jays entered the 2022 season as the tentative favorites in a loaded AL East, finally getting to play at home (against often shorthanded teams, to boot) again for a full season while boasting intriguing pitching along with one of the scariest lineups in the game.
The Blue Jays have sort of been similar to the Red Sox this season in that they haven’t really gotten into a trend in either direction quite yet, more or less altering wins and losses on a daily basis. In fact, that’s exactly what has happened since winning their first two games to start the season. In their most recent series, they took two of three at home against the Athetlics.
4/19: Nathan Eovaldi vs. Yusei Kikuchi, 7:10 PM ET (MLB Network for out-of-market)
The Red Sox get their ace on the mound for this series-opener against the nominal division favorite, and Eovaldi has had a bit of a strange start to his season. In terms of controlling the zone with strikeouts and walks, he’s been every bit the staff ace we’d expected, striking out 30 percent of opponents through two starts with a walk rate under five percent. However, he’s also given up four home runs already after allowing 15 in 32 starts a year ago. It’s still a small enough sample to write off as noise for now, but it’s also something that is worth keeping in the back of your mind, especially against a lineup like Toronto’s.
Since the middle of last season, the Blue Jays have worked to revamp their rotation, and all three of their starters in this series have been acquired since last summer’s deadline. Kikuchi, the team’s starter on Tuesday, was signed this past winter after spending his entire major-league career prior to 2022 with the Mariners. This will only be his second start of the season, having allowed three runs (two earned) to the Yankees over 3 1⁄3 innings in his first start of the year, striking out two with a pair of walks as well. Historically, the 30-year-old has done a solid job of missing bats, but has struggled at times with both walks and home runs. Kikuchi will feature a mid-90s fastball along with a cutter, slider, and changeup, all of which were used at least 10 percent of the time in 2021.
4/20: Nick Pivetta vs. José Berríos, 7:10 PM ET (MLB Network for out-of-market)
For the second game of this series, the Red Sox will be looking to their nominal number two started and hoping for a bounce back after he struggled a bit in his season-opening outing last Friday. Pivetta only made it through two innings in that game, and like Eovaldi has had some homer issues already this season with three allowed in just 7 2⁄3 innings of work. We know at his best he can miss bats with the best of him, but early in this season he hasn’t even done that while also showing the poor command that can get him in trouble. Keep an eye on his fastball and slider in particular, both of which are giving up batted balls on average over 100 mph off the bat, obviously in a small sample.
Berríos was Toronto’s big acquisition last summer, getting him from Minnesota in a trade and quickly locking him up to a long-term deal to make sure he’s near the top of their rotation for years to come. We’ve seen him dominate the Red Sox in the past when still with the Twins, and he has the stuff to do that to any lineup at any time. So far this season, the righty has struggled mightily, though, only throwing 5 1⁄3 innings through two starts, allowing seven runs. Much of that damage came from his first start when he allowed four runs while only recording a single out, but even in his second start he was more decent than good. Berríos will feature a pair of fastballs in the 92-94 range along with a curveball that was his go-to pitch a year ago and a changeup.
4/21: Tanner Houck vs. Kevin Gausman, 1:35 PM ET
One of the big stories from the weekend was Houck being unable to travel with the team next week when they travel to Toronto due to his not being vaccinated, but he will be on the mound at home against the Jays in the series finale on Thursday. After looking shaky in his first start of the year in New York, the righty settled down in a big way last time around against Minnesota, tossing 5 2⁄3 shutout innings, though working around three walks in that process. He does need to get that control back in, well, control if he’s going to be the difference maker this rotation needs behind Eovaldi. Houck did throw his splitter more in his last outing, which is good news as he needs to be confidence in that offering if he’s going to pitch as well as he can.
Gausman was the team’s big addition from this past winter, replacing reigning Cy Young winner Robbie Ray, who headed west to Seattle. Gausman should be familiar to Red Sox pitchers from his days in Baltimore, but he’s transformed his career over the last couple of years with the Giants. It’s fair to wonder how much of that improvement will carry over after leaving the pitcher’s haven in San Francisco, but the early returns are positive for Toronto. Gausman has had some trouble on balls in play which has led to a lackluster 4.22 ERA through two starts, but he also has 14 strikeouts without issuing a walk or giving up a homer through 10 2⁄3 innings. Boston should be aggressive here, looking to make hard contact on mistakes, as the further behind they get in the count the easier the job will be for Gausman. The righty will feature a mid-90s fastball to go with a nasty splitter and a good slider.
Santiago Espinal was never a big name in the Red Sox farm system, but he ended up having an impact on the organization as he was traded to Toronto in 2018 in exchange for Steve Pearce, who would of course go on to win the World Series MVP. Since then, Espinal has blossomed into a clear major leaguer and in fact a starter on this contending roster, though even with that information the Red Sox would not re-do that deal.
Notable Position Players
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is only 23 years old, but he’s already right in the thick of the “best hitter in baseball” conversation and was runner-up for AL MVP a year ago. His strikeout rate is a bit higher than you’d expect early in this season, but he’s got great plate discipline and hits the ball as hard as just about anyone in the game.
George Springer was unavailable for long stretches of last season, which had a big impact on their lineup as he’s a center piece for this group. You can get him to swing and miss at times, though even that has improved as his career has gone on while still showing off plus power.
Bo Bichette is yet another guy in this lineup who can absolutely smoke the ball off any pitcher in the game, though the shortstop is more aggressive than the two hitters above, and can be exploited with good pitches just off the plate.
Matt Chapman was acquired via trade after the lockout and added an elite defender to their infield. Offensively, he’s coming off a down year in which he was merely an average hitter with his strikeout rate going way up the last few years.
Lourdes Gurriel Jr. has watched his power drop the last couple years, but he’s still been able to make enough contact to keep his OBP respectable and keep the overall line above water.
Espinal is another guy who won’t add much power at all, but he’ll put a lot of balls in play while drawing a decent amount of walks.
Alejandro Kirk has stepped into a starting catcher role due to an injury, and while his defense is a bit shaky back there he’s got excellent plate discipline with the bat in his hands.
Cavan Biggio hasn’t blossomed like Toronto once hoped, still drawing a ton of walks but striking out too much for a guy with his lack of power.
Raimel Tapia has also been forced into the lineup due to injury, and the former Rockie is another low-power player who will put pressure on this Red Sox defense with contact.
Jordan Romano is taking a leap among the game’s best relievers, a conversation whose periphery he was entering last season. He cane be slightly prone to the long ball, but his control is improved early this season and he still misses bats at an elite rate. He’ll handle closing duties this year for the Jays.
Yimi García generally is not going to put batters on for free, and at his best can miss plenty of bats, but he also tends to leave pitches in the zone that can be hit a long way.
Tim Mayza is the top lefty in this bullpen, and while there’s no one skill that particularly stands out he’s solid across the board.
Teoscar Hernández is a big loss for this Blue Jays lineup, with the slugger suffering an oblique injury late last week that is likely to keep him out for at least a couple of weeks, but with this kind of injury it could always be longer.
Danny Jansen is an underrated catcher in the league, and he suffered his own oblique injury just a few days before Hernández hit the IL with his.
Hyun-Jin Ryu is dealing with some forearm inflammation, causing Toronto to cut into their rotation depth.
Nathan Pearson is an enticing young arm on this staff who has just not been able to stay healthy, and right now has been trying to come back from mono. He’ll need a few rehab starts to get ramped up for a full workload again.
The weather should get better as this series goes along, with the only game to maybe monitor would be the opener on Tuesday. They should definitely play, but there’s some chance there’s a slight delay to start the game with some showers in the forecast around game time. I don’t expect it, but it’s not an impossibility.