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Red Sox at Blue Jays Series Preview

The Red Sox head north of the border for a four-game set.

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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 are right where they were expected to be before the season, sitting atop the American League East with a good all-around roster led by a legitimate superstar in the middle of their lineup.

Record

10-6

Head-to-head record

Red Sox 1, Blue Jays 2

Trend

Up. The Blue Jays are in the midst of what should be a tough stretch on their schedule, with three against the Red Sox last week followed by three on the road against the Astros. They took two of three in each of those series, with the two losses coming by a combined two runs.

Pitching Matchups

4/25: Nathan Eovaldi vs. José Berríos, 7:07 PM ET (MLB Network for out-of-market)

The Red Sox turn to their nominal ace to start what feels like kind of a big series despite the date. Eovaldi has had a bit of a strange start to his season, too, mostly because of the strange home run issues we wrote about earlier this morning. As was concluded in the linked piece, we’re still looking at it as mostly small sample size noise, but against a lineup that can be as potent as Toronto’s, the hard contact in general, and home runs specifically, are something to monitor. Otherwise, it’s been a strong start for Eovaldi, who has 19 strikeouts and only three walks over 14 23 innings. I’ll be watching specifically for how often he uses his slider (and how effective it is when he does use it), along with his efficiency. He’s yet to go more than five innings this season, and that includes his last time out which was against the Blue Jay when he only allowed one run (on a homer) but left after 4 23 innings.

The Red Sox get to see Berríos for a second straight week, which is not a welcome sight for an offense that is trying to get going. That’s not to say Berríos can not be hit, because he’s gotten off to a bit of a tough start overall, but he largely shut them down last week and has a history of pitching well against this team. Last week he did give up eight hits and a walk over six innings, but only allowed one run while striking out six. The key here is going to be patience. The Red Sox can’t let Berríos work with an expanded zone, because as soon as that happens his stuff is just too good to beat anyway. The righty will feature a pair of fastballs in the 92-95 range along with a curveball and changeup. The curveball is the out pitch, and one the Red Sox will be hoping to avoid when possible.

4/26: Nick Pivetta vs. Kevin Gausman, 7:07 PM ET

There have been a lot of issues with the Red Sox early on in this season, and the offense has justifiably taken the bulk of the hit from the fans. That has kind of let Pivetta fly under the radar for having a really rough start to his year. The team’s nominal number two starter after the injury to Chris Sale, he was looking to build off a solid 2021 but instead has gone in the other direction. So far this season, the righty’s strikeouts are down, the walks are up, and he’s allowed four homers in 11 23 innings. He did indicate that he thinks he found a mechanical tweak towards the end of his last start, so if you’re looking for optimism there it is, but right now all of his pitches are getting crushed and he needs a major change to get back on track. Against the Jays last week he allowed five runs over four innings.

A struggling Red Sox offense certainly is not going to be happy to see Gausman, who absolutely dominated Boston when they met last week. The righty, who was signed this offseason and early on has looked like a hell of a snag by Toronto, allowed just one run over eight innings of work against the Red Sox last week, striking out six and not allowing a walk. In fact, Gausman has yet to allow a walk or a home run in three starts this season, putting his FIP at an absurd 0.73 for the year. That’s a number screaming for regression, even for the best pitchers, so hopefully Boston can oblige. Gausman features a a mid-90s fastball, plus an elite splitter and a very good slider.

4/27: Michael Wacha vs. Ross Stripling, 7:07 PM ET (MLB Network for out-of-market)

One of the big positive surprises for the Red Sox this season has been Wacha, whose peripherals don’t look great but he’s been able to keep runs off the board with a sub-2.00 ERA. One area of concern has been his control, as he’s walked over 12 percent of opponents, but weak contact has allowed him to work around that. His changeup in particular has been an incredible pitch, and if he can continue to excel with that he should have a chance against any lineup. This will be his first meeting of the year with the Blue Jays.

The closest thing the Red Sox have to a break in terms of pitchers they are facing this week will be on Wednesday against Stripling. The former Dodger has been with Toronto since mid-season 2020, and his ERA has consistently sat between 4.00 and 5.00, in large part because he is so susceptible to the home run. He has yet to allow one this season, but his strikeout rate and walk rate have both gone in the wrong direction so far. He’s a four-pitch pitcher with a low-90s fastball plus a slider, changeup, and curveball.

4/28: TBD vs. Alek Manoah, 3:07 PM ET

Officially, the Red Sox have not announced a starter for the series finale on Thursday, but it’s almost certainly going to be Garrett Whitlock, who was outstanding in his first career start over the weekend. I would assume the only reason they are not making the announcement yet is because they may want to use him out of the bullpen in a specific situation earlier in the series, but I’d be really surprised if anyone else made that start. And really, it wouldn’t be totally surprising if Whitlock just sticks in this role the rest of the year.

On a Blue Jays roster that is loaded with fun, young talent, Manoah kind of sneaks under the radar but he belongs in that conversation. He is going to be a problem in this rotation for the next few years at least, and the 24-year-old is off to a strong start this season with a 2.00 ERA and a 3.74 FIP. He can get into slight trouble with his control from time to time, but even there he’s largely league-average to go with above-average strikeout stuff. He’s also coming off a strong start against a good Astros lineup, allowing one run over six innings on five strikeouts and no walks. Manoah will feature a pair of fastballs along with a nasty slider and a good changeup.

Toronto Blue Jays v Houston Astros
Alek Manoah
Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Ed. Note: The rest of this post is largely copied and pastes from last week’s series preview.

Old Friends

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.

Bullpen Snapshot

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.

Injuries

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.

Weather Forecast

Weather isn’t a huge factor in Toronto because they can close their roof, and between some rain and snow (!) in the forecast for Monday and Tuesday along with relatively cold weather all week, the roof may be closed for all four games.


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