In pre-honour of Jason Frasor tieing Dave Stieb for 3rd most appearances as a pitcher, an Advance Scout.
The Jays kick off a six game homestand tonight against the Red Sox, after which they get the O's, followed by a 10 game road trip against Cincinnati, Atlanta and St. Louis, with a makeup game against the Tigers in for good measure. Apropos of nothing, I really think they should really change the interleague rules so that pitchers hit in the AL parks, and DH's hit in the NL. I realize this sort of twists the advantage that's supposed to exist, but really, I think it would be a hoot to see Ricky Romero bat, and I'm sure that people in Milwaukee or wherever would rather see David Ortiz than Daisuke at the plate (or maybe not I guess).
In any case, after last night's unfortunate loss to the Royals, coupled with the Red Sox come from behind pounding of the Yankees, the Jays now sit 4.5 back in the Division, and have a chance to make up (or lose) ground. It comes at a critical juncture in the season, as for the first time the Jays are essentially all healthy and are fielding their optimal lineup and rotation - minus the Lorax and Jesse Litsch, and I suppose Snidro and Cecil, though that is voluntary. So, we wanna see what these guys can do. Yunel Escobar is apparently expected back today, which is good - I would say he's been the team's 3rd best position player, and 4th best player overall, and when he is in the lineup the Jays basically have as good a first five as any team in baseball - well, other than the Red Sox. Their other guys, well... So any result other than getting swept would be acceptable I think, and winning the series especially great, if only for the SOSH reaction.
The Red Sox come into this series as probably both the hottest team in baseball and the best team in baseball. As for the latter, they've now won 6 in a row after going into New York and sweeping the Yankees (so yeah, like I said, let's not get swept) and are 34-16 after their disasterous start. For the fomer, well, I don't know who you would say is better - St. Louis and Philadelphia have been playing pretty well, but they are in the National League, and I think the Sox are clearly the class of the AL. Carl Crawford is hitting .355/.394/.726 over his last 16 games, which isn't really good for anyone. Dustin Pedroia has a knee, and it's unclear if he will need surgery this year, but he is soldiering on at the moment. Rumours of David Ortiz's demise have been greatly exaggerated - he's hitting .326/.394/.612 and has hit 15 home runs. Kevin Youkilis has been just alright, as far as Kevin Youkilis goes, but I figure is a decent bet to turn it on at some point - he's hitting 50 points worse than he has in the previous 2 years, and still has good power and walk numbers. Adrian Gonzalez is basically hitting like everyone thought he would hit like outside of Petco. Meanwhile the real star of the show might be Jacoby Ellsbury, who has an .846 OPS and has stolen 24 bases. Ok, that star thing might be hyperbole, but the point being, the Red Sox have a bunch of guys that can f*#%ing hit. Jed Lowrie has done well in sub duty, while Salty (I am not spelling that) is basically JPA light.
Both teams will miss the other's best pitcher, but unfortunately if you are a Toronto fan, the other three guys the Red Sox will be rolling out are pretty good. On Friday Jo-Jo Reyes gets Clay Buchholz, who's actually been pushed back 2 days because of a back issue. Buchholz has been good but not great this year, and goes fastball, curve, change, and then either a slider or a cutter (it's unclear in Pitchfx, which has him throwing a slider before this year and a cutter only this year.) The fastball can get up into the mid-90s, while the change and cutter come in around 80 and 77. His slider/now cutter has historically been his best pitch, but he hasn't done as well with it this year. His strikeout and walk rates are about the same as last year, which is to say mediocre (6.2/9, 3.3/9) but he is allowing a bunch more fly balls and home runs than he has in the past, although his groundball rate remains the same, and the fly balls are replacing line drives, which is normally a good tradeoff. Buchholz has been tabbed as an ace for a while, but now has thrown over 400 innings of moderately above average ball over parts of four seasons, and doesn't seem to have made the jump. Buchholz has been pretty good against the Jays though - lifetime, Jose Bautista is 5/19 with only 1 home run, Aaron Hill is 8/27, Adam Lind 9/26 with 2 dingers, and Jose Molina 3/5. Patterson, Rivera, JPA, Davis and Escobar are a combined 4/34 against him. In his only start against the Jays this year he walked 5 in 5 innings and gave up 3 runs.
On Saturday it's Brandon Morrow and Big John Lackey. The Red Sox would certainly like their $82.5 million back, but as it seems unlikely that Lackey is so inclined, they keep running him out there. Lackey has been either good or terrible, allowing 3, 1, 9, 8, 2, 0, 1, 6, and 9 runs in his last 8 starts (most recent first) and has gone past six just twice. Lackey has a decent slider, but opposing batters have been teeing off on his fastball for the better part of two years. He also throws a good curve, especially for a righty, and a show me change once every now and then. His command is going, as he issued his most free passes since 2005 last year, and is easily besting both those marks this year, walking 20 in 45 innings, against only 21 strikeouts. Batters have always made solid contact against Lackey, but he managed to keep the ball down, the walks low and the strikeouts high, none of which are the case so far this year. Bautista is 3/14 lifetime, but two of those went over the fence, Adam Lind is 10/18, Rajai Davis 8/21, Patteson 3/18, Hill 4/25.
The rubber match features wild Kyle Drabek against the good Jon, Lester, who I think is one of the best pitchers in baseball, although he is having a down year by his standards. This is actually the second matchup between the two (the first was the David Cooper HR game), though neither acquitted themselves well the first time (Lester was good in his other start against the Jays.) Jon predominantly throws a fastball, which has lost about a mile an hour this year, and an extremely good, albeit slightly slower, cutter (92.5 v. 90). He throws his curveball much less than he has in the past, and his changeup slightly more, though he uses it essentially only against righties. Lester strikes out a ton of guys - slightly more than one an inning in the past, slightly less than one an inning this year. He will walk guys, but not enough to cause alarm. He's also a groundball pitcher. The main differences between last year and this one is he has gotten a little less lucky on balls in play and home runs, but otherwise he still looks pretty good, and he shut down the Jays earlier in the year, allowing 1 run in 6 innings. Bautista is 7/31 with 2 dingers, JPA 3/8, Escobar 3/10, Hill 2/29, Lind 3/17, Patterson 7/15.
The Red Sox pen has been good, one of the better ones when you strip out luck, though that is always dicey when evaluating bullpens. Jon Papelbon has been phenomenal other than people smoking the ball off him - he has a LD rate of 27% and opposing hitters are consequently batting .373 off him on balls in play. He also has 36 strikeouts and 5 walks in 26 innings. Daniel Bard, the #2 guy, has been even better, and throws in the high 90s and has a ridiculous swinging strike rate. Matt Albers and Dan Wheeler do some of the heavy lifting, while Bobby Jenks is on the DL, Hideki Okajima is in the minors and wants to be traded.
So that's that. First pitch 7:07, Jays +129