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Toronto Blue Jays Series Preview: This isn’t the 2015 ALCS

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Both teams enter at 40-67 in a three-game cage match of epic proportions. Or something.

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at Toronto Blue Jays
Jul 28, 2019; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Blue Jays designated hitter Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (27) reacts as he pops out against the Tampa Bay Rays in the eighth inning at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton
Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

In some ways, the Royals and the Toronto Blue Jays are in a similar position. Heading into this series, they have identical records and nearly identical run differentials in 2019. They both have some big-time recent success (though the Royals have the ring) and are in the midst of a rebuild. But the Blue Jays are ahead of the Royals, mostly due to their young talent that is now mostly in the big leagues after the promotion of Bo Bichette following their trade of Eric Sogard. They have some very impressive players who haven’t even reached arbitration even if Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. hasn’t been quite as amazing as we had all assumed. Of course, with trading Marcus Stroman and soon trading Ken Giles, Daniel Hudson and maybe even Joe Biagini (or maybe they have by the time you’re reading this), the pitching that has already been pretty bad is just going to get worse. They may be ahead of the Royals in their rebuild, but they’re certainly not good.

Meet the Blue Jays

Royals vs. Blue Jays Tale of the Tape

Category Royals Blue Jays
Category Royals Blue Jays
Winning % .374 .374
Team wRC+ 87 86
Team xFIP 4.86 4.76
2019 H2H Wins 1 3
Run Differential -84 -88
Highest fWAR Whit Merrifield, 2.8 Lourdes Gurriel, Jr., 1.8

Blue Jays Projected Lineup

Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Cavan Biggio 2B 209 .205 .341 .363 17.2% 29.2% 94 0.3
Bo Bichette (AAA) SS 242 .277 .336 .447 7.9% 19.8% 104 ---
Lourdes Gurriel, Jr. LF 283 .290 .336 .576 5.7% 24.0% 136 1.8
Justin Smoak 1B 354 .218 .359 .433 16.7% 19.8% 114 0.8
Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. 3B 316 .259 .335 .422 10.1% 17.7% 102 0.2
Randal Grichuk RF 412 .227 .286 .401 6.8% 27.9% 80 -0.2
Danny Jansen C 282 .201 .274 .343 7.8% 22.0% 64 1.1
Teoscar Hernandez CF 286 .219 .287 .427 8.7% 30.4% 85 0.4
Billy McKinney DH 189 .221 .278 .419 6.3% 25.4% 81 -0.3

Blue Jays Projected Bench

Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Freddy Galvis INF 421 .265 .299 .435 4.8% 22.8% 91 1.2
Reese McGuire (AAA) C 277 .247 .316 .366 9.0% 15.9% 72 ---
Brandon Drury INF/OF 300 .222 .267 .401 5.7% 27.0% 72 -0.1

Blue Jays Key Relievers

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP fWAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP fWAR
Ken Giles 35 35.0 2 2 41.4% 7.9% 1.54 2.49 1.5
Daniel Hudson 44 47.0 6 3 23.8% 11.4% 2.87 5.23 0.4
Joe Biagini 48 48.0 3 1 23.7% 7.9% 3.75 3.85 0.2

Probable Pitching Matchups

Monday July 29th - 7:15pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Thomas Pannone 25 43.2 2 4 21.8% 11.2% 6.39 5.56 0.0
Brad Keller 22 132.0 7 9 16.6% 10.2% 3.95 4.87 1.8

Thomas Pannone was taken in the ninth round of the 2013 draft by the Indians and came to the Blue Jays in exchange for Joe Smith a couple years ago. He made his debut last season after serving an 80-game PED suspension and posted a solid 4.19 ERA but with not enough strikeouts and too many walks to go with the strikeouts. Fast forward to this year and he has basically the same strikeout to walk ratio but with more strikeouts and more walks. He’s been horrible as a starter this year, going 0-3 with a 14.46 ERA in his three starts and he’s only gone 9.1 innings. He’s your classic “crafty” lefty with a fastball that sits in the upper-80s but can reach 92-93 to go along with a solid curve and changeup that can get hitters out who are sitting heavily on the fastball. The first pitch has been a problem for him with opponents hitting .385 with a 1.077 SLG on it. Obviously, the sample is small, but he’s also been worse against righties than lefties, so Jorge Soler seems like a fun bet for a first pitch home run at some point against Pannone in this one.

Brad Keller has been dynamite in July, going 3-0 with a 1.33 ERA in 27 innings over four starts. The only real blemish is that he walked five against the Nationals, but still only allowed one run in 5.2 innings. He’s thrown a ton of strikes this month, which is his continuation of improving from early in the season when his control and command were just a disaster. Over a larger set of games, he’s gone 5-4 with a 3.41 ERA in his last 12 starts with strikes thrown two-thirds of the time. It’s been a nice change and one that looks like it can be sustainable and help him to be that middle of the rotation type guy we all thought he could be early in the season. As always, you wish for more swinging strikes, but he’s been quite effective mostly without them. He gets so many ground balls, but his hard hit rate allowed of 39.3 percent is worth some slight concern moving forward.

Tuesday July 30th - 7:15pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Sean Reid-Foley 4 12.2 0 1 21.4% 10.7% 3.55 5.31 0.0
Mike Montgomery 22 34.0 1 3 12.3% 9.1% 6.09 5.02 -0.7

This start was supposed to be taken by Marcus Stroman, but he’s not on the Blue Jays anymore, so it would be against MLB rules for him to make this start. Instead, Sean Reid-Foley looks like he’ll finally get a long-term look in the rotation. You might recall he made his big league debut against the Royals last season in Kansas City, so this will be somewhat familiar for him in this one. He’s been, well, bad in AAA this year with a 6.26 ERA in 82 innings over 18 games. The big issue is control. He’s walked 62 batters in those 82 innings, so while the 95 strikeouts are great, they’re not enough when you’re walking every sixth hitter. His fastball is pretty good, though, and he’s put up a 36 percent whiff rate in the big leagues on it this year. The slider can be really dirty too with a 30 percent whiff rate as well. Reid-Foley had a pretty solid start against the Royals earlier this year, giving up just two runs on five hits over 5.1 innings with just one walk allowed, but this Royals team has a little more teeth than the one he faced with the added youth in the lineup that’s been performing pretty well since the break.

The Royals counter with Mike Montgomery getting his third look in the rotation since being acquired from the Cubs. First, the good from his last start. He was on a very light pitch count and was still able to get through five innings against a tough Cleveland lineup. He gave up just the one run on five hits over five innings, which was really solid. The issue, though, is that if he pitches like that again, the odds are he won’t be so lucky. He threw just 56 percent strikes and didn’t get a single swing and miss. I think a lot of what he was trying to do was get bad swings out of the zone, but none of his pitches enticed the Indians hitters, and they pretty much held back from swinging on all of them. He was lucky to get some of the contact he did, but at this point, I think you have to be happy with the baby steps, especially considering he was facing the same lineup he did just a few days before that lit him up. His pitch count will probably allow him to go six or even into the seventh if he’s efficient enough, so we’ll see if the improvements continue.

Wednesday July 31st - 12:15pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Jacob Waguespack 5 24.0 1 1 20.6% 6.5% 5.63 4.56 0.3
Jakob Junis 22 125.1 6 9 21.8% 8.2% 4.03 4.59 1.0

The series wraps up with the third straight start from a youngster for the Blue Jays with Jacob Waguespack getting the call for his sixth career big league game and fourth career start. He’s been up and down a bit. He’s allowed 30 hits in 24 innings and has a 5.63 ERA, so that’s not great, but he’s only allowed three home runs and he’s struck out a nice number of batters while walking a reasonably low number. He was a 37th round pick of the Pirates back in 2012 and signed with the Phillies as an amateur free agent in 2015. He was ultimately dealt to the Blue Jays last year for Aaron Loup. Like Reid-Foley, he wasn’t very good in AAA with a 5.30 ERA and too many walks, but he’s getting his shot now because there’s opportunity with the Blue Jays. He features a solid fastball that’s gotten a good number of swings and misses in teh big leagues. His cutter has been an absolute disaster, though, with a .409 average allowed and .818 slugging percentage. He’s throwing it nearly a quarter of the time too, so the Royals will have their opportunities with it. He also uses some combination fo curve, slider, sinker and changeup to get through games, so the repertoire is vast, but a day game might feature some heat and the ball carrying and that might not bode well for the youngster.

Jakob Junis believes Waguespack spells his first name wrong and will try to show him who is right in this one. Junis had a rough go against Cleveland last weekend after having a very nice run of three straight starts. Still, though, he managed to get through six innings a night after the Royals played 14 innings, so he took one for the bullpen even though he got hit around pretty good. The concern from that start is he had a season-low three swinging strikes. Basically nothing was working for him. His slider is usually so good, but it was just flat in this one, so he’ll need to re-find that to navigate a Blue Jays lineup that doesn’t have good numbers but has the talent to be very tough. Junis has two starts against the Blue Jays in his career with a 2.84 ERA in 12.2 innings and amazing zero home runs allowed. Hopefully he can maintain that here.

Prediction

As I mentioned earlier, these two teams are pretty evenly matched, but you never know what subtractions the Blue Jays will make from their team during the series while the Royals are basically done. I think the Royals are playing well outside of when they play the Indians and can win another series by taking two of three here.

Poll

Who takes the series?

This poll is closed

  • 32%
    Royals Sweep
    (45 votes)
  • 4%
    Blue Jays Sweep
    (6 votes)
  • 51%
    Royals Win Two of Three
    (71 votes)
  • 11%
    Blue Jays Win Two of Three
    (16 votes)
138 votes total Vote Now