After neatly disposing of Felix Hernandez, the Jays move on to an even more daunting adversary: Johan Santana. He'll face Shaun Marcum in a quality pitching matchup tonight. Thereafter, the Jays will see two righties they've already seen twice this year.
The Twins continue to hang around the playoff race, but they were dealt a crippling blow by the Tigers last week: a three-game sweep at the Metrodome. They rebounded by taking two of three from the Angels and will look to continue that trend in Toronto before heading off to Cleveland for a big three-game weekend series.
Tonight, it's two-time Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana. If voters had a pulse, he would be the three-time-defending Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana. Despite his 7 losses he is still a front-runner for the Cy because of his 2.65 ERA and tendency to no-hit every single team he faces in the second half. Santana has been remarkably consistent from year to year. Here are his ERAs since 2002: 2.99, 3.07, 2.61, 2.87, 2.77, 2.65. Kinda speaks for itself.
Santana throws hard - usually between 93 and 97 with his fastball - and has a powerful slider in the high 80s that exhibits varying degrees of slurviness. Unlike many lefties, Santana stands on the right side of the rubber and has absolutely no reservations about pitching inside to righties. His best strikeout pitch is of course his Bugs Bunny changeup which breaks substantially down and sideways and, because it hovers around 83 mph, presents a massive change of pace too. Santana will throw all three pitches to both righties and lefties.
He works quickly and has been pitching very aggressively in recent games. If that pattern continues, he's going to be tough. But the Blue Jays franchise has had pretty good success against him, and Reed Johnson in particular is 9-16 with a walk. Troy Glaus is 7-18 with 7 strikeouts and 4 walks - when he's managed to put the ball in play he's had success. Vernon Wells is 3-21 with 6 strikeouts; Matt Stairs has homered; Lyle Overbay is 1-11 with two walks and 8 strikeouts. Stairs may play first tonight. Actually, Curtis Thigpen may play first tonight...
Santana faces fellow changeup maestro Shaun Marcum, whose stats this year are very similar to Santana's, just a little less good across the board. Tonight's tilt may not quite be Doc-Felix, but I had this matchup circled on my calendar all weekend.
Scott Baker faces the Jays for the third time this year tomorrow, opposing Dustin McGowan. He throws lots of sinkers around 89-90 and pitches off them with a slider. He also has a curve in the high 70s and a change. The Twins broadcasters think Baker really needs to keep the ball down to succeed; the chart does not disagree: he's a flyballing sinker-slider pitcher with some slight homer issues. They are also concerned that Baker tends to leave the ball up more as the game progresses because he tires quickly and loses velocity.
Wednesday, it's Carlos Silva against Jesse Litsch. Silva throws his sinker a bit harder and a bit more often than Baker does his, and he lives and dies with his ability to make it sink. He has a pretty good changeup and a slider, but he's all about pumping the sinker in there over and over and over, ideally down and away. You'd better come prepared to hit one of those sinkers, because he's very unlikely to put you on first. He probably regards his (still very good) 5.1% walk rate as an embarrassment. Troy Glaus is 0-11 with 2 strikeouts against Silva and will probably sit because it's a getaway day. Lyle Overbay is 6-15 with a triple; Matt Stairs, 10-29 with a homer; Aaron Hill, 1-11. Frank Thomas is 6-15 with a walk(!) and all six hits going for extra bases - four doubles, two homers.
In the bullpen, Joe Nathan rebounded from an extra-inning loss in the Tigers series by nailing down two easy saves against LA of A over the weekend. Pat Neshek suffered only his second blown save of the year in one of those games, but picked up the win. In that Detroit series last week, Neshek appeared in all three games and struck out 6 of 13 hitters. Neshek's peripheral stats show a big platoon split. His K/BB numbers are pretty good against lefties, but they're ridiculous against righties. Hence, if the game comes down to the Twins nursing a 3-2 lead in the eighth and Aaron Hill facing Neshek with the bases loaded and one out, the Jays should pinch-hit Matt Stairs and not think twice about it.
LOOGY Dennys Reyes has Schoeneweis '06 tendencies. The big lefty from Higuera de Zaragoza has a very good groundball rate but can only get one kind of hitter out: .250/.323/.308 against lefties, .389/.511/.528 against righties.
Second baseman Luis Castillo, who hits a remarkably high quantity of singles (always has) and beats the ball into the ground with great purpose, is apparently having visa issues and may not make it up to Toronto for tonight's opener. Blame Canada, blame Canada... He arranged to have a friend fly up from Miami to Minnesota with his visa in time to hand it off before the Twins' team flight to Toronto. If that didn't work, someone else will probably man second tonight.
Joe Mauer hit an inside-the-park homer on Saturday when Gary Matthews missed an attempt at a leaping catch at the warning track.
Rondell White was activated off the Twins' DL to provide some pop from the DH hole. He had a hamstring injury. He doesn't walk, but he does bring a bit of power to a mostly punchless lineup. The Twins already have a DH type on their bench in Jeff Cirillo, and Mauer usually fills that hole when Mike Redmond catches, so it's a mystery how much playing time White will get. It probably depends on his ability to handle the outfield.
How good would Jason Bartlett look in a Blue Jays uniform? Imagine plugging him in the 8-hole, far away from the lumbering sluggers, and letting him run wild as a kind of secondary leadoff hitter. Man. Bartlett is 19-20 on the basepaths this year and kind of gave the Jays a few headaches a couple of weeks ago in the four-game set at the Metrodome.
And the Twins called up journeyman outfielder Darnell McDonald to add some depth on Thursday. McDonald has had a really solid year in AAA and fits right into the Twins mold of slashing groundball and line-drive hitters who get the kind of hits that bug the hell out of pitchers, and then steal second. With White just activated recently, McDonald probably figures to get very limited playing time, but his versatility and righthanded bat suits a team that starts lefty hitters in both corners.
The Credit Section: All offensive stats, pitches per PA for pitchers and league average stats are from the Hardball Times. Pitchers' stats and leverage indices are from Fangraphs. Minor-league stats are from Minor League Splits and First Inning. K% and BB% are strikeouts and walks as a percentage of plate appearances; GB% + LD% + FB% = 100.