This weekend the Red Sox travel up the Rogers Centre for a three-game set with the Toronto Blue Jays. The head-to-head record between the clubs sits at 8-8 through the series’ first 16 games and will be decided in earnest this weekend. While Toronto is the juggernaut of the division not all is lost for the Red Sox who have a few numbers in their favor. The Red Sox have a 4-3 record at Toronto this year and their 87 runs scored vs. Toronto is by far their highest total vs. any opponent during the 2015 season. Sure, Toronto has scored 99 runs against the Sox, but hey, they do that against everyone. The Sox know that they need to score prolifically if they are to keep up with these guys and have a chance. As an aside, David Ortiz also has more home runs at the Rogers Centre (39) than any other ball park not named Fenway.
Toronto Blue Jays – Current Record: 84-62
The Blue Jays have a 3.5-game lead on the Yankees heading into this weekend’s tilt vs the Red Sox, thanks in part to the impressive additions the team made at the trade deadline. Since adding Troy Tulowitzki (who remains out of the lineup), Ben Revere and David Price, the club has surged to an incredible 39-16 record in the second half, winning over 70% of their games. While they still have the second-best record in the American League no team even comes close to their +210 run differential, which is the best in baseball by an amazing 92 runs. These guys can score and now they can pitch, and I view them as the odds on favorites to advance to the World Series from the American League.
Rick Porcello vs. Marcus Stroman, Friday, 7:07 p.m.
This is the matchup I am most looking forward to and I won’t have to wait long to get it. If you would have told me in July that I would be looking forward to a Rick Porcello start I would have probably responded by saying something very mean to you. Since the second half of the season has started, and more importantly, since Porcello came off of the DL, he has been a new man. His second half ERA sits at a very respectable 3.12 and he has dropped his opponent batting average by a whole .043 points. If he could have done this the entire year I wouldn’t have been complaining about that $82 million albatross of a contract extension.
Opposing Porcello is none other than the uber-talented 24-year-old Stroman. Unless you have lived under a rock you know Stroman’s story; this spring training he tore a ligament in his knee and has worked his way back to the team in time for the playoffs. This is only his second start since returning from the injury but, in his first outing at Yankees Stadium he held his own, giving up three runs over five innings pitched. Make no mistake, the Sox are not facing him at his best but he still has some of the nastiest stuff of any young player in baseball and could give the Sox fits.
Wade Miley vs. R.A. Dickey, Saturday, 4:07 p.m.
The second matchup of the weekend has two pitchers who got off to incredibly bad starts to the season but have been much better as of late. For the Sox, Miley gets the nod. He posted a first half ERA of 4.80 and has been much better as of late with a second half ERA of 3.87. While this is nothing to write home about Miley has at least been serviceable and is only one start removed from his September 5th complete game victory over the Philadelphia Phillies. Don’t get too excited about him, but don’t get too down, either.
Going for the Jays is the 40-year-old knuckleballer with a name straight out of the roaring twenties, R.A. Dickey. Say it in an old time baseball announcer’s voice….yep, its fun isn’t it? Dickey has had the same type of story as Miley except his second-half success has been even more magnified. Dickey dropped his first-half ERA of 4.87 by nearly two whole runs, sporting a stellar second-half mark of 2.98. When the knuckler is knuckling it’s a hell of a thing.
Rich Hill vs. Mark Buehrle, Sunday, 1:07 p.m.
For the series and season finale we get Long Island Ducks pitcher, 35-year-old Rich Hill, opposing the immortal rubber-armed Buehrle. If you haven’t heard Hill’s story yet I will sum it up for you. Lefties live forever and Hill has battled injuries over the last ten years, finally finding himself healthy playing in the Independent League. The Sox gave him a shot and he made the most of it, pitching well enough at Pawtucket to earn a major league start. All he did with that one start was go out and strikeout ten Rays hitters over seven strong innings, allowing zero runs. Someone make a movie about this guy.
While most Jay’s players have surged in the second half, Buehrle has seen his ERA rise from 3.43 in the first half of the season to 4.43. His 3.66 mark on the whole season has been fine but he is certainly not trending in the right direction. Nothing has changed here; Buehrle still relies on location and efficient use of his pitches to get ahead should be as formidable as always.
Even without Tulowitzki, I don’t have to tell you how scary this lineup is, just look at it. Donaldson, Bautista, and Encarnacion are without a doubt the scariest two though four hitters in baseball right now and even though the lineup thins out after Martin this is no easy test.
Ben Revere – LF – L
Josh Donaldson – 3B – R
Jose Bautista – RF – R
Edwin Encarnacion – DH – R
Justin Smoak – 1B – S
Russell Martin – C – R
Ryan Goins – SS – L
Kevin Pillar – CF– R
Cliff Pennington – 2B – S
Toronto has hit 207 Home Runs in 2015, this is good enough for the best mark in baseball. The also lead baseball in doubles with a whopping 275 of them. Sure, having no Tulo will hurt but not all that much. Look for this lineup to score early and often and to threaten frequently.
I am looking forward to this series more than any other in recent memory mostly because of how well both teams have been playing recently. The Red Sox have posted their two best months of baseball during August and September and everyone knows how good the Jays have been over the second half. The Yankees are playing against the Mets this weekend, which is going to be tough series in its own right, one that could easily end in their being swept. Should the Yankees do the sweeping, however, the Red Sox would be in a position to really help out the bad guys in pin stripes. Of course I want the Red Sox to win and sweep the Jays … but maybe it wouldn’t be the worst thing if they didn’t.
Best case scenario here is that the Sox and Mets take care of business and the division is settled by both teams head-to-head over the next few weeks. I like the Sox chances in every game this weekend but I have to give the slight edge to the Jays and their incredible bullpen. You can bet I will be tuning in.
Photo by Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports Images