It’s Friday! Time for another Weekend Preview.
The Red Sox had quite an interesting week. Coming off a bad series against the Yankees, in which they were swept and at times looked inept, things somehow got worse when they lost Hanley Ramirez to a shoulder injury in the first inning of Monday’s game against the Rays. They lost that game 5-1, again looking hapless at times. But then rode a pair of Mookie Betts’ bombs and another solid start from Rick Porcello to win the middle game of the series. Another Mookie homer made things interesting in the rubber match of the series but they ultimately took another series loss. This weekend the Red Sox continue their long stretch of games within the American League East, heading to Toronto for a battle with the Blue Jays.
Toronto Blue Jays – Record (14 – 15) – Projected Record (81 – 81)
The Blue Jays, like the Red Sox, have played below expectations thus far. Their offense is scary (currently tied for 10th by TAv at .270), but the pitching has been problematic (4.83 team ERA). The Jays are dealing with injuries to a key players (Jose Reyes, Jose Bautista) and have not had production from some of the younger players they expected to be ready for greater responsibility (Dalton Pompey, Aaron Sanchez, Miguel Castro). They have scuffled along to a 5-5 mark in their last 10, with a +9 run differential on the season that more or less matches what PECOTA projects the rest of the way.
Wade Miley vs. Aaron Sanchez – Friday, 7:07pm EDT
Miley has been a disaster for the Red Sox thus far. His 4.00 FIP suggests he has pitched better than his 7.15 ERA, but that 4.00 FIP mark is still below league average. Miley’s issues thus far are not really a case of being unlucky (.303 BABIP), but rather a case of lacking control (his 10.9 BB% is up 3.5% from his career level) and allowing more contact than usual (his 12.9 K% is down 5.4% from his career level). Regression in these numbers, and his remarkably terrible 47.6 left-on-base-percentage (LOB%), should get him back on track. Ideally he can build on his last start, when he held the Yankees to three runs over seven innings of work (his longest outing of the season), scattering seven hits, walking nobody and striking out three. This weekend will be a real challenge for Miley, as he will need to work through a right-hand-heavy Blue Jays lineup that can really put up runs.
Sanchez, the much-touted prospect for the Blue Jays, has struggled in his time in the rotation this season. He has thrown 25.1 innings for the Jays this season, has walked 20 batters and struck out 21. That is an ugly ratio. The lack of control has made it such that he has yet to get through six innings. His start against the Red Sox on April 27th was one of his better outings this season, as he struck out seven and only walked two. Coming into the weekend he has a 4.62 ERA and a 5.88 FIP. He is projected for a similar ERA but a one-run improvement in FIP (4.90). I suspect that if the Blue Jays can get someone to slot into the rotation via trade or from within the organization, Sanchez will be heading back to the bullpen, where he excelled in 2014.
Joe Kelly vs. Drew Hutchison – Saturday, 1:07pm EDT
Joe Kelly has been perplexing thus far. He has great stuff, but struggles to leverage that stuff and put together dominant starts. He has the fastest fastball in the league (96.4 mph) that he should be able to use to set up his secondary offerings. But his trouble commanding the pitch, and perhaps an over reliance on those secondary pitches, have limited his effectiveness. The good news is that he is striking out many more batters than he is walking, and an above average FIP (3.71), so that 5.72 ERA could see some reduction. He has given up five runs in each of his three starts, only one of which lasted at least 6.0 innings, which are both streaks he should aim to break this weekend.
In the eyes of many, 2015 was going to be the season that Hutchison took another step forward, improving on his 1.6 WARP 2014 season. PECOTA was not expecting much improvement, projecting him for 1.3 WARP. So far he has taken a step backward. He has allowed six runs in each of his last two starts, has only pitched more than six innings once. His 15.9 K% is a career low, and his 8.3 BB% is the second highest mark of his career. All of this adds up to a 7.47 ERA and 5.16 FIP, neither of which are at all desirable.
Clay Buchholz vs. R.A. Dickey – Sunday, 1:07pm EDT
I wonder if ‘Clay being Clay’ will ever become a phrase around Fenway Park. He is some sort of an enigma and on an outing-by-outing basis he is remarkably difficult to predict. He has made six starts this season with runs allowed totals as follows: 0, 10, 2, 1, 5, 5. Three good ones, and three bad ones. Runs allowed are certainly not the whole story, but they provide some insight into the roller coaster that has been Buchholz. His ERA is gross (6.03) but his 2.95 FIP suggests he has pitched much better than that ERA would suggest. He is striking batters out at a career high rate (27.4 K%), and walking batters at a career-low rate (6.9 BB%), but has been unlucky on balls in play (.407 BABIP). One of those bad starts (5 R in 2.2 IP) came against the Blue Jays last week, so hopefully he performs better on Sunday.
The pitcher of house Dickey has, much like the rest of the Jays rotation, performed poorly to date (4.38 ERA, 5.22 FIP). He has never fully shown his Cy Young form as a member of the Blue Jays, but has consistently thrown at least 200 innings for them. He is projected for around that mark this season. In his last start, against the Yankees, Dickey went eight innings, allowing one run on three hits, so perhaps he has figured something out with his knuckleball. That or the increase in temperature that came with getting to May was a natural aid. The current forecast for Toronto calls for rain on Sunday, which could mean the dome is closed, another supposed natural aid to the knuckler.
The Blue Jays’ lineup has a lot of right-handed power. Navigating the Josh Donaldson (6 HR, .374 OBP), Jose Bautista (5 HR, .344 OBP), and Edwin Encarnacion (4 HR, .271 OBP) sequence three (or four) times a game is a significant challenge for opponents. Edwin has been struggling so far this season, but he is still a threat.
1. Devon Travis – 2B -R
2. Josh Donaldson – 3B – R
3. Jose Bautista – RF – R
4. Edwin Encarnacion – DH – R
5. Justin Smoak – 1B – L
6. Russell Martin – C R
7. Kevin Pillar – LF – R
8. Michael Saunders – CF – L
9. Ryan Goins – SS – L
To some extent the lineup as written above depends on Bautista being inserted back into the outfield. If his shoulder is better and he feels he can throw the ball then this is the lineup the Red Sox are most likely to see. If he is still dealing with soreness and needs to DH then Encarnacion will play first base, and Ezequiel Carrera (or Danny Valencia) will be the right fielder, moving Justin Smoak to the bench. If Bautista is playing rightfield, Valencia will probably be the first baseman on Friday against Miley, as his primary skill is hitting lefties (.315 TAv v. LHP, .203 TAv v. RHP). The Saturday and Sunday games will probably involve Smoak or Carrera.
What does all of this mean? Well, expect plenty of runs and probably a bunch of homers. The Rogers Centre is a launching pad and these two teams have spent the first month of the season exchanging the honour of worst ERA in the league. As noted, the Blue Jays are currently ranked 28th with a 4.83 ERA, and the Red Sox are ranked 29th with a 4.86 ERA. Fielding independent numbers don’t tell a much better story for these teams, as the Jays are last in the league with their 4.81 FIP, and the Red Sox are 23rd at 4.31. All told, these teams were built around scoring a lot on offense and hoping the dam doesn’t break on the pitching and defense side of things. It could be a wild series.
Photo by Kim Klement/USA Today Sports Images