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Toronto Blue Jays series preview: ALCS rematch

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No Jose, no cry

MVP
MVP
Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

After squaring off against one another in a hotly contested American League Championship Series last October, both the World Champion Kansas City Royals and the Best Baseball Team in Canada Toronto Blue Jays have gotten off to less impressive starts in 2016. Each squad is a handful of games over .500 at the midway point of the season but looks up in the standings from the middle of the pack. After establishing themselves as the class of the American League in 2015, both the Royals and Jays look to have fallen back to the pack. They face each other with the animus of a recent, hard-fought postseason series still smoldering while trying to regain what they had in 2015.

*All stats courtesy of FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference

Pitching match-ups

Game One - Monday, 6:07 PM CDT

Pitcher G IP K BB ERA FIP xFIP SIERA rWAR fWAR
Edinson Volquez 17 99.1 77 37 4.80 4.14 4.44 4.50 0.2 1.3
Aaron Sanchez 16 105.1 96 34 3.08 3.46 3.31 3.62 2.4 2.3

After spending the bulk of the second half of the season in the pen for the Jays following the deadline acquisition of David Price, Sanchez has emerged this season as the Jays' steadiest hand in the rotation - unless wants to believe that Marco Estrada's .193 BABIP is a product of his own doing. Pitching half of his games in the hitter haven of the Rogers Centre, Sanchez provides the Jays with the desirable combination of inducing a ton of groundballs while striking out 22.0% of the batters he faces. Of qualified starters, only teammate Marcus Stroman and Tyler Chatwood have a higher GB% than Sanchez's 58.6% mark. The former supplemental first-round pick lives off of his two-seamer, which he averages 94.7 MPH on and throws 50.2% of the time. He changes levels with his four-seamer at a virtually identical velocity (94.5 MPH), an offering that he utilizes in 24.1% of the time. He mixes in a curve (16.5%) at 77.9 MPH and a change (9.1%) at 88.4 MPH. His curve is a plus pitch, and it looks like his change-up is progressing into being a major-league quality offering to go with his borderline plus-plus two-seamer. The big concern with Sanchez as he came up through the Jays' system was free passes, but he has limited himself to a 7.8 BB% and 2.91 BB/9, assuaging those concerns by way of efficiency. The increased workload (he's never thrown more than 133.1 innings in a season) may end up putting the lid on his season early, but he's looked every bit the part of an ace in the making.

Game Two - Tuesday, 6:07 PM CDT

Pitcher G IP K BB ERA FIP xFIP SIERA rWAR fWAR
Chris Young 14 57.2 60 29 6.24 7.56 5.29 4.71 -0.6 -1.2
R.A. Dickey 17 102.2 70 35 4.21 5.30 4.68 4.81 0.4 0.3

Rare are the starts where Dickey doesn't allow any runs. Just two of his 17 starts this season have ended without the knuckleballer allowing at least one earned run, and one of those two saw an unearned run cross the plate. Dickey is also not going deep into games, completing the seventh (or better) just three times. Dickey hasn't been terrible, per se, and the fact that he is a knuckleballer does mean that he is likely to outperform his peripherals thanks to inducing poor contact, but the Royals lit him up last postseason.

One note of minor solace to be taken in regards to Chris Young, the Jays' lineup is still extremely righty-heavy. Only Michael Saunders, Justin Smoak, and Josh Thole can hit from the left side of the plate, and only one of them mashes against righties (Saunders). Even with his struggles this year, Young has allowed just a .200/.254/.403 slash with a .281 wOBA to RHH, and just seven of the 22 dongs he's allowed have come from righties.

Game Three - Wednesday, 6:07 PM CDT

Pitcher G IP K BB ERA FIP xFIP SIERA rWAR fWAR
Ian Kennedy 16 93.2 93 32 4.04 5.21 4.63 4.15 1.2 0.3
Marcus Stroman 17 108.0 77 32 5.08 3.92 3.83 4.01 -0.1 1.7

Sometime around the middle of May, Marcus Stroman started to get hit around a bit. In his last nine starts, he has allowed four or more runs six times, thrice yielding a whopping seven earned. Of course the bulk of those shellackings have come at the hand of AL East foes who the Duke grad had already seen this season, but right now Stroman looks pretty human. This rough stretch isn't for lack of repertoire. As noted above, Stroman has the highest ground-ball rate of any starter in baseball. His sinker elicits comparisons to Roy Halladay. He mixes in six pitches, throwing his two-seamer 49.0% of the time, then opting for his cutter, curve, slider, change, and four-seamer in that order of usage/preference. His fastball variations sit in the 89-93 MPH range, with his breaking balls coming in hard at 85.1 MPH (slider) and 80.7 MPH (curve). The change averages 84.0 MPH, though it sounds like Stroman is trying to take a few more MPH off that pitch. Unfortunately for the Royals, the aforementioned rough stretch has almost entirely come at that hands of teams seeing him again. Teams seeing Stroman for the first time this season have not enjoyed much luck against the diminutive right-hander.

The Batsmen

Name Pos PA HR R RBI SB BA OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ rWAR fWAR
Ezequiel Carrera (L) RF 165 3 30 9 5 .288 .385 .396 .348 115 0.5 1.1
Josh Donaldson 3B 362 20 73 56 6 .298 .410 .583 .416 162 4.6 4.8
Edwin Encarnacion DH 362 22 54 76 2 .265 .357 .545 .380 137 2.1 2.0
Michael Saunders (L) LF 316 15 43 37 0 .294 .370 .552 .390 144 2.0 1.9
Russell Martin C 263 7 28 34 1 .225 .313 .339 .289 75 -0.3 0.0
Troy Tulowitzki SS 249 14 25 37 1 .232 .309 .459 .327 101 1.6 1.0
Justin Smoak (S) 1B 225 9 22 23 1 .234 .329 .411 .323 98 -0.0 0.1
Kevin Pillar CF 338 7 34 33 7 .255 .285 .394 .292 77 1.9 1.9
Devon Travis 2B 140 5 19 19 3 .273 .307 .447 .322 98 1.2 0.7
Bench Pos PA HR R RBI SB BA OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ rWAR fWAR
Josh Thole (L) C 82 1 4 1 0 .127 .225 .169 .191 9 -0.7 -0.4
Darwin Barney IF 182 3 19 10 2 .292 .346 .387 .321 97 1.7 0.8
Junior Lake OF 18 1 2 2 1 .214 .389 .500 .383 139 0.1 0.1

Stats through Sunday, July 3

While the Blue Jays are still scoring runs, they are not nearly the offensive juggernaut they were last year. As a unit, they have scored just the sixth-most runs in baseball. Their .331 wOBA is just the eighth-best mark in baseball, and their 104 wRC+ ties them with the Tigers and Giants for sixth. They are still very good, but hardly the force they were last year.

The Jays currently find themselves without the services of Jose Bautista, Chris Colabello, and Ryan Goins. The two surprises in terms of production have been Michael Saunders and Bautista's replacement in right, journeyman Ezequiel Carrera. Darwin Barney has also been surprisingly productive while playing for Devon Travis, who recently came off the DL.

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