The Yankees open the second half of the season with a four-gamer in Toronto, heading back up to Canada for the first time since April.
The Bombers are 5-3 against the Blue Jays this season, and only need four wins in their remaining 10 games against the Extra-Base Hits to exceed their 2010 win total against the Jose Bautistas. When the teams last met, the Bombers took two of three at home, thanks in part to their most exciting comeback of the season.
Toronto comes into this series in 4th place in the AL East, with a 45-47 record. The team once again boasts a strong offensive attack — a .326 wOBA, 5th-best in the AL, and 105 wRC+ — and its starters have adhered pretty closely to the solid numbers the group posted last season, but unfortunately for Toronto the rest of the league’s staffs got better while they’ve mostly stayed the same.
The Jays’ relief corps has been fairly middle-of-the-pack (95 ERA-, 100 FIP-, 96 FIP-), with Casey Janssen providing studly work (2.93 ERA/2.23 FIP/3.12 xFIP, zero home runs) and former starter Mark Rzepczynski also pitching well. Shawn Camp hasn’t been terribly effective (4.42/3.84/3.83) and has an unacceptable K/9 for a reliever (4.42), and Jason Frasor‘s been his usual reliable self.
On offense, as you know the Jays are led by the man leading the world in wOBA (an otherworldy .487), wRC+ (215) and fWAR (6.6), and who is essentially a lock to go yard multiple times during this series: Jose Bautista. I shudder to think of a not-all-there Phil Hughes throwing anything even remotely hittable to Baustista on Sunday. Bautista is supported by a resurgent Adam Lind (136 wRC+), Yunel Escobar (125 wRC+) and the recently re-promoted Eric Thames (143 wRC+). Old friend Jose Molina is also somehow raking (135 wRC+), but he of course doesn’t play every day. Fortunately the rest of the players in Toronto’s everyday lineup are performing at below-average levels (sub-100 wRC+; for those unfamiliar with this stat it’s a wOBA-based version of OPS+, whereby anything better than 100 is above league-average and vice versa), so the bottom of the order should be a touch easier to navigate.
As for the pinstriped nine, the team’s offensive attack has been pretty consistent for much of the season, though much to my chagrin the team’s wOBA recently fell behind the laser-hot Red Sox, who are apparently contractually mandated to score 10 runs a game. Back on June 7 the Yankees are Red Sox were tied atop the American League with matching .344 team wOBAs. Since then, the Sox have bludgeoned their way to an .011-point increase, and currently sit atop the Majors with a beastly .355 mark and are performing 21% better (121 wRC+) than league average.
The Yankees are second in the Majors with a superb .346 mark (116 wRC+), which is essentially where they finished last season (.347 wOBA, 113 wRC+), although their numbers this season are a bit more impressive when taken into context with the league as a whole. Still, after posting the top team wOBA in the Majors in four of the last five seasons — including their historical .366 mark in 2009 — it stings to see Boston with a healthy .009-point team wOBA lead on the Yanks.
In tonight’s game, Bartolo Colon (3.20/3.56/3.19) will look to bounce back from his worst start of the season against Jo-Jo Reyes (4.57/4.37/4.61). The Yanks surprised the hell out of everyone and touched Reyes up last time they saw him despite Reyes being a Guy-They’ve-Never-Seen-Before™, and Reyes has continued to mostly putter along, with a terrible fastball (-7.2 runs above average) and ineffective changeup (-4.0 wCH) that has led to him pitching decidedly below league average (118 ERA-, 112 FIP-). Hopefully Bart can post a strong outing, although the Jays did light Colon up last time they saw him, so he should have a slightly different game plan this time around.
In Friday night’s game, Freddy Garcia (3.13/3.97/4.20) will square off with Brandon Morrow (4.60/2.70/3.26). The hard-throwing Morrow (93.7mph four-seamer, 6th-fastest in the AL) hasn’t seen the Yankees yet this year but faced them four times last season, hurling a gem in first outing against them (7IP, 1ER, 8K), but yielded 5ER in each subsequent outing against the Bombers. Morrow is another fastball-slider flamethrower in the mold of Alexi Ogando and Juan Nicasio, and his slider would rank 8th-best in the AL if he had enough innings to qualify. The Yanks haven’t had all that much trouble in dispatching of Morrow’s fastball-slider brethren, and should be able to break through if they can get his pitch count up, which isn’t all that hard to do since Morrow’s an extreme strikeout pitcher — his 10.64 K/9 would be first in the AL by far if he qualified. Freddy’s faced Toronto twice this season, going five and giving up three the first time and tossing a quality start (6IP, 3ER) the second time out.
The Saturday afternoon matinee has CC Sabathia (2.72/2.50/3.09) taking on uber-lefty Ricky Romero (3.09/3.94/3.65). Romero’s already seen the Yankees twice this year, and they continued to do absolutely nothing against him, as he threw a combined 13 innings of three-run ball over those two outings. Romero’s having another fine season — even if he did get utterly torched by the Sawx in his final outing before the All-Star break — and is an extremely tough lefty, featuring an elite fastball (7.0 runs above average; avg. velocity 92.3mph) and stellar changeup (8.3 runs above average, 6th-best in the AL). Of course, for the Blue Jays’ troubles they get to face perhaps the hottest pitcher in baseball.
And in the Sunday afternoon finale, Phil Hughes (10.57/7.26/6.31) will look to get back on track against reliever-turned-starter Carlos Villanueva (2.99/3.40/4.10). Last time Villanueva saw the Yankees it was during his first start of the season, and he of course pulled out a classic Guy-the-Yankees-Have-Barely-Seen-Before performance, limiting the Bombers to one run over five innings on May 23, in the game that Colon unraveled in. Villanueva’s a junkballing righty, with an 89mph fastball and 81mph change. All four of his pitches currently rate as above average, and his repertoire is actually pretty similar to Freddy Garcia’s. Although with the Yankees now having seen Villanueva along with their newfound propensity to actually beat up on slop-throwers this season, the Bombers should be able to get to Carlos. However, on the flip side, Hughes still has quite a ways to go before I’d head into a start of his feeling fully confident that he’ll pitch the team to a win, and given that Toronto crushed him worse than anyone else last season (7 home runs in 21 innings), this game could get ugly quickly.
On paper the Yankees are certainly a better team than the Blue Jays, and in theory should be able to take three of four, although I almost always expect a split when playing a four-game set, regardless of opponent. Three of four could also be a tough assignment, considering the Blue Jays have recently played the Yankees very toughly at home — Toronto was 6-3 vs. New York at the Rogers Centre last season — and the fact that the Jays currently have the best hitter on earth residing in their lineup. In any event, hopefully the Yankees can leave Canada wresting three wins from the roll-over-and-die-if-they’re-facing-Boston-but-play-as-if-it’s-the-World-Series-when-facing-the-Yankees annoying-as-hell Toronto Extra-Base Hits.
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