The Toronto Blue Jays have the chance to create some separation in the AL East this weekend, but they’ll need to play better in order to put some distance between them and the New York Yankees. After allowing 22 runs in three games against the Boston Red Sox, Toronto will need improved pitching in New York.
David Price and the returning Marcus Stroman are among the Blue Jays starters set to pitch in the Bronx, but there are no guarantees of success against a high-powered Yankees offence. Here’s a look ahead at a crucial series for both teams…
Thursday, Sept. 10 – 7:05 p.m. ET
David Price vs. Luis Severino
Friday, Sept. 11 – 7:05 p.m. ET
Marco Estrada vs. Ivan Nova (expected)
Saturday, Sept. 12 – 1:05 p.m. ET
Marcus Stroman vs. Michael Pineda (expected)
Sunday, Sept. 13 – 1:05 p.m. ET
R.A. Dickey vs. Masahiro Tanaka (expected)
Where does Stroman fit?
From the moment the Blue Jays announced Marcus Stroman’s torn ACL, they downplayed the chances of a 2015 return. There was little sense expecting anything from a pitcher facing so many obstacles. Now that he’s back, though, the Blue Jays appear to be tentatively planning around him for the first time in a while. GM Alex Anthopoulos told Prime Time Sports Wednesday that it’d be a ‘no-brainer’ to include Stroman in a possible playoff rotation if he pitches the way he did last year.
Replicating those 2014 numbers will be a challenge, but the possibility of that production should encourage the Blue Jays. While teams like the Yankees (Nathan Eovaldi) and Mets (Matt Harvey) are losing pitching, the Blue Jays are getting some back.
It’s a good thing Brett Cecil got the night off Wednesday, because there’s a chance he will be used in a couple of big spots over the weekend. The Blue Jays seem reluctant to use southpaws Aaron Loup and Jeff Francis in high-leverage moments, which creates the possibility that Cecil will be called on to retire left-handed hitters like Jacoby Ellsbury, Brett Gardner and Brian McCann. That’s a big ask of any pitcher, but Cecil has been at his best of late, with no earned runs allowed since June 21.
Considering that the Yankees and Blue Jays are veteran teams, they both rely pretty heavily on rookies. Roberto Osuna has emerged as Toronto’s top reliever since debuting at Yankee Stadium in April, and fellow rookie Aaron Sanchez has also been charged with getting high-leverage late-game outs.
The Yankees are similarly reliant on youth, with Greg Bird producing in place of the injured Mark Teixeira and Luis Severino showing promise in the rotation. The Blue Jays came away impressed after facing the 21-year-old right-hander in Toronto last month. Jose Bautista’s scouting report:”Good, live fastball with a loose arm. Sneaky. Good downhill plane.”
In six starts Severino has a 2.04 ERA with nearly one strikeout per inning. Even with Price on the mound, the Blue Jays have a challenge ahead Thursday.
Most pitchers who can light up the radar gun rely heavily on their fastballs, but Andrew Miller throws mostly sliders despite the ability to reach 95 mph routinely. The lefty throws sliders 53 percent of the time and that spikes to 69 percent in two-strike counts. But knowing what’s coming only helps hitters so much. Miller has a 1.94 ERA with 79 strikeouts in 51 innings this year.
Here’s a little history, for what it’s worth. The Blue Jays have had a 79-60 record through 139 games one other time, back in 1991 when they won the AL East. This time last year, two teams were 79-60: the Washington Nationals, who won the NL East, and the Oakland Athletics, who made the playoffs as a Wild Card team.