Eduardo Rodriguez

Weekend Preview: Red Sox vs. Blue Jays, Part III

It’s Friday! Time for another Weekend Preview.

Things are back to looking terrible in the land of the Red Sox. Coming off a series sweep against the Athletics on the weekend, that included a thrilling seven-run eighth inning comeback in Sunday, they have continued the two steps forward, two steps back cycle by losing all three games Baltimore. The good news is that Hanley Ramirez is hitting again, Xander Bogaerts looks great at the plate and in the field, and Eduardo Rodriguez has been a huge shot in the arm for the rotation. But there are still too many players performing poorly. The up and down play of late has the Red Sox seven games under .500, and seven games back in the American League East. Unfortunately, as the Red Sox continue to spin their tires, the Yankees, Rays and Blue Jays have been playing well. This weekend the Red Sox battle those Blue Jays in an important intra-division series at Fenway.

Toronto Blue Jays – Record (31 – 30) – Projected Record (82 – 80)

The Blue Jays roll into Boston on an eight-game winning streak. They have the best run differential in the American League, and a corresponding first-order winning percentage that would put them atop the division. However, by third-order measures, which adjust for underlying statistics and quality of opponent, they are still behind the Yankees. The run differential is largely a function of Toronto’s offense, which has scored the most runs in the league (325). The closest team, the Yankees, has scored 50 fewer runs. Their .274 TAv ranks third behind the Dodgers and Yankees, but their 116 wRC+ is tied for the top spot with those Dodgers. While the offense bludgeons teams, the pitching, still not a strong suit (4.22 team ERA on the season), has been much better (3.88 team ERA in May/June). Jose Reyes is back at shortstop after being disabled by a rib injury, and Jose Bautista’s shoulder has healed to the point that he can play right field. But the Jays are not entirely healthy. Rookie sensation Devon Travis is still on the disabled list with a shoulder injury, forcing Ryan Goins into an everyday role at second base, and Edwin Encarnacion is currently also dealing with a shoulder issue, which has limited him to the DH role. Coming into Boston, the Jays look much more like the fringy contending team they were projected to be at the start of the year. Although it must be noted that they had a similar run of strong performance to the one they are on now last season, winning nine in a row at the end of May, before ultimately fell apart.


Joe Kelly vs. Drew Hutchison – Friday, 7:10pm EDT

The enigma that is Joe Kelly continues, and while for now the Red Sox have opted to keep him in the rotation he needs to be better. The ERA is still an ugly 5.40, 35% worse than league average, and even though his fielding-independent pitching mark of 4.15 suggests his ERA could see some reduction, it is not exactly desirable. He pitched well in his last start, going 6.0 innings, allowing four hits, one run, had six strikeouts and only two walks against a good Texas offense. Ideally he can build on that outing and limit the Toronto offense that has already knocked him around twice this year.

In some ways Hutchison is like Kelly in that he has great stuff but struggles to consistently put together strong outings. Over his last five starts he has interleaved good and bad outings, with the middle good one an excellent, complete-game shutout of the White Sox. His strikeout rate is more in line with career marks than it was earlier in the season, and he is posting a career low 5.8% walk rate. Some of that reduction in walk rate may be because he is throwing his fastball much more often that he did last year, largely at the expense of slider. The increased fastball use has also contributed to opponents making more contact, but a lot of it (20.5%) has been marked as soft. If there truly is a trend in Hutchison’s outings then a bad one is coming Friday night.

Clay Buchholz vs. R.A. Dickey – Saturday, 1:35pm EDT

Buchholz’s last start broke a streak of excellent outings, but he has still been the Red Sox’s best starting pitcher non-rookie left-hander division. His ERA still sits above 4, but his start against the Yankees in early April is really making that look worse than it is. Take that start out and his ERA is 3.75. But mulligans aside, he has a 2.92 FIP, which is 17th best in the game and demonstrates that he has pitched better than his ERA indicates. Buchholz has done a great job for this team, but unfortunately his solid starts have often been wasted due to a lack of run support. Hopefully he starts another run of strong starts on Saturday.

Dickey has still yet to fully show his Cy Young form as a member of the Blue Jays. His ERA is right up there with Joe Kelly at 35% worse than league average, but unlike Kelly, Dickey’s FIP does not foretell positive things. At 5.41 it suggests that his ERA is basically right in line with how he has pitched. The knuckler is a fickle beast, and this year it has been turned around for too many long balls. Dickey has allowed at least one home run in two-thirds of his starts this season, although his HR/FB% of 15.3 is much higher than his career rate, and generally not a rate that is sustained over the long term.

Eduardo Rodriguez vs. Marco Estrada – Sunday, 1:35pm EDT

You may not have heard this but Eduardo Rodriguez has been tremendous since getting the call to the big leagues two weeks ago. In three starts (20.2 innings) he has only allowed one run, eight hits, and has struck out three times as many batters as he has walked. He has a slightly unsustainable left-on-base rate of 100%, but let’s ignore that for now and embrace the beacon of hope that is #Ed. His outing on Sunday will present a real test as the Blue Jays offense is very good, and they have a tendency of crushing left handed pitching (more on that below). If he navigates the Jays offense unscathed, then the Red Sox might have to declare him the ace of the staff, a title they have been loath to bestow on anyone.

Estrada came to the Blue Jays this offseason as part of the trade with the Brewers that sent Adam Lind to Milwaukee. Originally slotted for a bullpen role, he was transferred to a starting role at the start of May in an effort to shore up the rotation after Daniel Norris was optioned back to Triple-A Buffalo. As a starter he has performed about as well as was projected, posting a 4.54 ERA and 4.27 FIP in 52.1 innings. He doesn’t really do anything spectacularly well, and doesn’t really do anything terribly, other than being a bit homer-prone (1.40 per nine). Basically, Estrada is a league-average or slightly worse pitcher giving the team innings in the fifth rotation spot, which was not the original plan, but a decent plan B. He is the kind of starter the Sox offense needs to beat up on.

Opposing Lineup:

As mentioned, the Blue Jays’ offense has been the best in the game so far this season. The 2-5 spots in the order present a significant challenge for opposing pitching; there is a lot of right-handed power there. Josh Donaldson (16 HR, .369), Jose Bautista (11 HR, .393 OBP), Edwin Encarnacion (13 HR, .309 OBP), and Russell Martin (8 HR, .360 OBP) can knock the ball out of the yard and are excellent at not making outs. Edwin still has not fully gotten going yet, and is, as noted above, dealing with a shoulder problem, but he is still a threat to take the parrot out for a stroll.







Jose Reyes





Josh Donaldson





Jose Bautista





Edwin Encarnacion





Russell Martin





Justin Smoak





Chris Colabello





Kevin Pillar





Ryan Goins




This offense is scary, and they are downright terrifying if you are a left-handed pitcher. The Blue Jays are the best offense in the game against lefties. The lineup I suggest above is already really right-handed heavy, but it can be more so when Danny Valencia (.315 TAv v. LHP, .203 TAv v. RHP) is inserted into the lineup at first base or in the outfield, replacing Justin Smoak, or Chris Colabello. The Sox are lucky that Wade Miley will not start in this series.


I am basically repeating myself from the last time I previewed a weekend series between the Red Sox and Jays, but I think we should expect plenty of runs and probably a bunch of home runs. These teams have spent the first part of the season in the bottom third of the runs allowed and home runs allowed leaderboards. In their six previous contests this season, they have split the wins, combining for 59 runs, and 11 home runs. Offense is the way these teams are designed to win, and hopefully the Sox’s version shows up and breaks the Jays’ recent run of strong play.

Photo by Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports Images

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