The playoffs might be two months away still, but tonight’s game at Yankee Stadium should have the pressure-cooker atmosphere of Game 1 of a championship series as our Blue Jays take on the Pinstripes. The three game series won’t decide the season one way or another, nor even topple New York from the divisional lead but it will go a long ways to figuring out how the AL East will play out. The series is of paramount importance for Toronto, as will be all of the incredible 13 games they have remaining against the Bronx. However, the real pressure may just be on the home team, seeing as how the Jays are the hottest team in baseball over the past ten days and trounced the Yankees in upgrading their team at the trade deadline.
I expect the Jays to have the best record in the division from here on in, but the question is whether that will be enough to catch, let alone overtake the suprising ol’ Yanks.
We know about what Toronto bats are doing this year, how Josh Donaldson leads the majors in RBI and has already set a career high for homers; how Jose Bautista is having a “down year” but still is on pace for 110 RBI ; the hot streak Edwin Encarnacion is on and so on. Likewise, we know about the Yankees who’ve found the Fountain of Youth apparently; A-Rod’s .281 average, 24 homers and .924 OPS; how Mark Teixeira’s 29 dingers are the most he’s hit in a season since ’11 and if he holds onto his .944 OPS, that will be his best in six years. We know about their acquisition of Dustin Ackley and the respectable year Brian McCann is having.
Likiewise, we know if the Yankees are going to be beaten, a team needs to get to them early on. The bullpen duo of Bettances and Miller are close to Davis and Holland in Kansas City and they, my blue-feathered friends, are every bit the equal of Henke and Ward back in the day. Collectively, the pair have allowed only 15 ER in 93 innings and are 31 for 34 in save opportunities. LaTroy Hawkins and Mark Lowe make the Jays ‘pen better but still not in the same category as New York’s…
Which isn’t that bad, considering that there are usually seven innings before Bettances is trotted out for the Bombers. And Toronto’s starting rotation, dare I say it, blows the Yanks away. It was better even before the Detroit deal, now it’s night and day.
I’m amazed that in a year when Cueto, Price and Kazmir changed hands and all evidence suggested that Shields and Samardzjia were there for the taking that the Yankees decided to stand pat and look towards October with a rotation anchored by Nathan Eovaldi.
Eovaldi is the Big Apple’s Drew Hutchison- his 11-2 record looks dazzling, but dig deeper and his 4.30 ERA is only middling and deeper still, note that opponents are teeing off on his pitching with a .300 average and he doesn’t look too ace-like. Neither does big CC; Sabathia apparently didn’t dip his toe in A-Rod and Tex’s Time-reversing waters. The large lefty does lead the team in innings with 123, but too many of those have been rough ones, as shown by his 4-8 record, his 5.34 ERA and the two dozen homers he’s allowed. Tanaka and Pineda are better but marginally so; Ivan Nova could end up being their best but seven games is a pretty small sample to base it on.
Contrast that with the Jays. As surprises go, Toronto’s starting pitching of late is up there with Donald Trump saying something good about Mexicans. It’s unexpected!! But it has been very solid this summer. Mark Buehrle, Mr. Reliable is destined to increase his streak of double-digit win / 200-inning seasons. With 12 W, he’s already half way there, and he only needs 52 innings more over the remaining two months. In his last 6 outings, he’s 3-1 with a tidy 2.53 ERA…which is bested by RA Dickey!
The knuckleballer’s had to deal with his share of detractors this year, and a strange lack of run support from a team leading the world in runs. His 6-10, 4.06 ERA isn’t putting him in the discussion for another Cy Young but it’s decent. More importantly, of late he’s been in top form, lowering his ERA by almost a full run in his last five games. In that span he’s been 3-1 with only 5 earned runs given up in over 36 innings. Tonight he looks to make it three starts in a row without a run allowed.
Marco Estrada has rounded into form very nicely with a couple of near no-nos and more than two ER allowed in only one of his past 9 games; a 3.40 ERA and measly .216 opponents average are the results.
If the team lacked a true #1 Starter before, they have it now in David Price. What more can you say about him that his 10-4 record, 2.45 ERA and 149K to 31 BB, his 154 innings pitched already (third best in the league) don’t? Well, there’s always that throwing out a clunker of an outing on July 28, when he was doubtless packing up his locker and wondering which direction he’d be driving, and he’s had a 1.18 ERA since the beginning of July and is averaging almost 8 innings a start.
Which leaves Drew Hutchison. Preferably in Buffalo, if i had my way. After opening day, Drew’s never really had it together but of late he’s worse. In his last 6 starts, he hasn’t pitched past 6 innings at all, and has surrendered 43 hits in just under 30 innings. His ERA of 6.67 in that period would be even worse if some of the questionable errors called against the Jays didn’t mean 6 runs he’s given up in that period have been unearned. The good news for Toronto is that with seven off days left in the sched, they may be able to skip Hutch’s spot in the rotation several times.
What’s it all mean? Well, it means that all other things been equal, Toronto should be significantly better than NY down the stretch.
Unfortunately, all things are not equal. Both teams are much better at home than on the road; New York have 31 of their final 55 games in the Bronx. The Jays have only 24 of 52 games left in the Rogers Centre. Toronto have five interleague games left on the road, New York three. Five games with EE either out of the lineup, or playing first base, is significant. Both teams have a number of games left to play against lacklustre teams, but the Jays face the other pesky birds, the Orioles, 7 times compared to New York’s three. Bottom line- the schedule favors New York.
Schedule notwithstanding, the Jays can still win it all. They have the momentum, they have the post-trade euphoric confidence, they have better hitting and starting pitching than New York. But for that to happen, they will need to deliver a decisive message in the remaining bakers’ dozen games against NY.
If the Blue Jays “time is now”, the time to start proving it is now. The post season starts in two months. The real fun begins tonight.