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Toronto Blue Jays Series Preview: Back in Canada once again

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The first series at Rogers Centre since 2019 gives the Royals an added challenge as they try to keep winning.

MLB: Toronto Blue Jays at Boston Red Sox Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports

The last Blue Jays game to take place in Canada was played on September 29, 2019. It was an 8-3 win over the Tampa Bay Rays to push the Blue Jays final record to 67-95. Since then, the Blue Jays have added quite a bit to their roster and they’ve seen some of their young talent take big steps forward. After a playoff appearance last year in an expanded field, they are right in thick of the Wild Card race in the American League and have made some interesting moves to add to their team. Of course, even with the additions, they’re still not in a great spot as they are in fourth place in their division. But getting back to Rogers Centre will be a big boost for them, and I have to say that I’m not the least bit surprised that the Royals get to be their first opponent. It just seems like they’re often the team that gets to be places when big events are happening. So it’ll be a good challenge for a largely unchanged Royals team at the deadline.

What we know about the Blue Jays is that they can hit. They hit a ton of home runs and score a ton of runs. What they don’t really do offensively is walk, but they also don’t strike out. That’s about the only similarity between their lineup and the Royals lineup, so there should be a fair amount of contact in this series. They obviously have the big thumper with Vladito and a lot of other dangerous bats. George Springer is back and finally looking healthy. Marcus Semien is having an outstanding season. Bo Bichette continues to impress. The pitching is also pretty darn good, though not on the level of the offense. Robbie Ray has been outstanding since early in the season. Hyun-Jin Ryu continues to be a dependable, if not great, starter. Steven Matz has been fine. And they’re getting Alek Manoah back from the IL for this series. Their bullpen has been sort of up and down, but they do have some very good arms in there and just added Brad Hand yesterday.

Royals vs. Blue Jays Tale of the Tape

Category Royals Blue Jays
Category Royals Blue Jays
Winning % .446 .515
Team wRC+ 90 112
Team xFIP 4.49 4.08
Run Differential -82 97
H2H Wins 3 1
Highest fWAR Nicky Lopez, 2.3 Vladimir Guerrero Jr., 5.2

Blue Jays Projected Lineup

Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
George Springer CF 136 .239 .341 .513 12.5% 25.7% 131 0.7
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. 1B 424 .328 .425 .661 13.7% 17.2% 189 5.2
Marcus Semien 2B 443 .278 .345 .529 9.3% 22.8% 135 4.4
Bo Bichette SS 436 .296 .349 .483 6.7% 20.4% 126 3.2
Teoscar Hernandez DH 339 .295 .342 .495 6.5% 25.4% 126 0.2
Randal Grichuk RF 384 .259 .284 .466 3.1% 21.1% 99 0.7
Lourdes Gurriel Jr. LF 347 .262 .292 .418 4.0% 19.9% 89 0.1
Cavan Biggio 3B 282 .221 .318 .358 12.4% 27.0% 85 0.0
Reese McGuire C 143 .284 .324 .388 4.9% 21.7% 95 1.1

Blue Jays Projected Bench

Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Alejandro Kirk C 56 .240 .321 .460 8.9% 12.5% 112 0.2
Santiago Espinal INF 138 .320 .730 .422 7.2% 14.5% 118 1.2
Breyvic Valera INF/OF 4 .250 .250 .500 0.0% 50.0% 95 0.0

Blue Jays Key Relievers

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP fWAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP fWAR
Jordan Romano 36 35.1 4 1 29.7% 11.7% 2.29 3.88 0.5
Brad Hand 41 42.2 5 5 23.1% 9.9% 3.59 4.65 0.2
Adam Cimber 43 44.1 2 2 14.9% 6.9% 2.44 4.70 0.6

Probable Starting Pitchers

Friday - Daniel Lynch vs. Ross Stripling, 6:07pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Daniel Lynch 4 16.0 1 2 14.9% 6.8% 7.88 4.28 0.4
Ross Stripling 17 80.0 3 6 24.7% 7.4% 4.84 4.34 0.1

Ross Stripling was such a good utility pitcher for the Dodgers over the years that when the Blue Jays picked him up in a trade last summer, I thought it was really smart of them. He hasn’t been great since the start of last season, but he’s given them some decent innings and really has just had some trouble with the home run ball. I thought maybe it would be related to playing his home games in Dunedin and Buffalo, but he’s had just as much trouble on the road, so that’s something to keep an eye on because the other peripherals are fairly in line with his past. He’s relying a ton on his four-seam fastball, throwing it more than half the time and while he gets some swings and misses on it, that’s the pitch that he’s allowed 14 of his 18 home runs on this season. Hitters just aren’t missing it when he’s missing his spots. His curve has been okay and so has his changeup, but he’s also had a lot of trouble with his slider. He’s also probably been a bit unlucky with men on base as these things tend to even out over the long haul, but he’s allowed a .333/.400/.569 line with men in scoring position this season. Oh yeah, and he has a big reverse platoon split, likely because of the success of his changeup. I think the Royals can do some damage off him.

Boy what a difference a few weeks makes. After his first stint in the big leagues, Daniel Lynch had made three starts, spanning eight innings and he allowed 15 runs on 18 hits. In his fourth start, he went eight innings and allowed no runs on five hits. If you want to quibble, he could have had more strikeouts, but he got so much weak contact and was keeping hitters off balance that I wouldn’t even bother to make that argument, though it would be nice to see some strikeouts in this one. Still, 11 swings and misses is a good number even without them ending at bats. The Blue Jays hit everyone, but their right-handed power makes them a tough matchup for a lefty, so I’m very curious to see how Lynch responds to a legitimately great big league outing. This is a good test for him.

Saturday - Mike Minor vs. Alek Manoah, 2:07pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Mike Minor 21 118.1 8 8 23.0% 7.2% 5.32 4.34 1.9
Alek Manoah 8 40.1 2 1 31.0% 8.9% 2.90 3.98 0.4

For all the young players who have struggled to adjust to the big leagues this season, Alek Manoah is not one of them. He hit a bit of a roadblock when he hurt his back after slipping, but he’s been nasty in eight starts with his slider getting a lot of attention, but his fastball, averaging 94, has actually been almost as nasty with a similar whiff rate to the slider. He also has a sinker, but he does have a similar issue to many Royals pitchers that if he’s off with either his fastball/sinker combination or his slider that he doesn’t have anywhere really to turn. He throws his changeup about 10 percent of the time, but it hasn’t been very good, so that’s definitely a point of emphasis for him in the offseason. He’s been much better against righties than lefties, and it’s probably because his changeup isn’t quite good enough to get them out. Having not pitched since July 9, he might be on a bit of a short leash, which would be good for Royals hitters.

Mike Minor has righted the ship after a shaky stretch there for a bit. He’s had two straight very good starts. In his last one against the White Sox, he held them hitless into the fifth and only allowed three hard hit balls in his six total innings. I thought maybe I had figured something out from his start in Milwaukee with him throwing fewer changeups, but then he went out against the White Sox and threw 21. Like the White Sox, the Blue Jays have righty power, so maybe that’s the strategy. If it’s as good as it was against the White Sox, he should have another good start. But if not, he’ll need his curve to be on point against a Blue Jays team that really punishes softer fastballs from lefties. He’s been pretty good in his career against the Blue Jays, but he did give up four runs on seven hits in 5.2 innings earlier this year against them.

Sunday - Brad Keller vs. Jose Berrios, 12:07pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Brad Keller 21 108.2 7 9 18.6% 10.4% 5.55 4.57 0.8
Jose Berrios 20 121.2 7 5 25.7% 6.5% 3.48 3.58 2.3

This could change again, but the acquisition of Jose Berrios for the Blue Jays gives them a better Sunday option than their previous option of Thomas Hatch. They might do some readjusting since Berrios hasn’t pitched since the 24th, but for now, we’ll put him here and move him if he has to move. And of course, we know all about Berrios, so it’s fitting that he gets to start against the Royals in his first Blue Jays outing. He’s been a bit up and down lately, but is coming off a great start against the Angels last Saturday. Before that, he had a couple of bad ones and a couple of good ones. He’s faced the Royals twice this year and given up four runs on six hits over six innings both times, which is some nice symmetry. He has had a huge platoon split this year with .260/.331/.488 line allowed to lefties and .170/.225/.248 line to righties. The Royals should load up on lefties in this one, though they don’t have a ton.

Brad Keller hopes to continue his run of looking like the guy the Royals thought was an ace in 2020. He’s now thrown 27.2 innings over his last four starts with 19 hits allowed and a 2.28 ERA. What hearkens back memories of last year is that he’s given up just four extra base hits (two doubles and two home runs) in those four starts with all sorts of weak contact and only 10 walks. It’s a truly fantastic turnaround from what we saw from him for weeks after his last good stretch. This one seems a little different as he’s gotten his slider back and that gives him a legitimate weapon other than his two fastballs. He also seems to be finding more and more confidence in a hard changeup that hasn’t looked great yet, but it’s nice to see him throwing it. The Blue Jays have given him trouble in his career. He’s 2-1 but with a 5.49 ERA with 24 hits allowed in 19.2 innings. He hasn’t faced them this year, so it’s been two years since he last saw them.

Prediction

The Royals really drew the short straw by being the Blue Jays first opponent in their actual home since 2019, so this will be an emotional series on top of being tough with a team clawing to stay in the postseason race. I like the way these starters are going, but this lineup can make good starters look like first half Royals starters very easily. I think the Royals pull one out, but I’m honestly tempted to go with a Blue Jays sweep no matter how well the Royals are playing.

Poll

Can the Royals spoil the Blue Jays homecoming?

This poll is closed

  • 5%
    Big time, they’ll sweep the Blue Jays.
    (6 votes)
  • 18%
    Not totally, but they’ll win the series.
    (22 votes)
  • 55%
    They’ll at least win a game.
    (65 votes)
  • 20%
    Nope, the Blue Jays are sweeping this series.
    (24 votes)
117 votes total Vote Now