The Jays return to Toronto after splitting a ten game road trip; despite the .500 record the club must be a little disappointed, after blowing a game against Oakland and dropping two winnable ones against Minnesota. Meanwhile Tampa comes to town for a weird 2 game set after losing 2 of 3 at New York and Baltimore, getting Toronto for two games and Boston for two games before interleague play this weekend (they get the Braves, Toronto gets the Mets). Both teams trail Baltimore in the division, Toronto by 3 and Tampa by 1. Will somebody get closer to the O's, or will they split the series and just tread water? Find out this, and who really shot JFK*, in the Advance Scout.
*Not, you know, actually.
This is the second series against the Rays for Toronto; they played in the middle of April in Toronto, with the Jays taking the first and Tampa the last two. Interestingly (or not, I guess), the Jays face these two Rays pitchers last time out.
Monday: Jeff Niemann vs. Brandon Morrow
Jeff Niemann actually has the best strikeout and walk numbers of any of the Rays three starters this series - ditto for Morrow, who is actually walking fewer than Alvarez, even with his recent 4 walks (and 10 strikeout, to be fair) outburst. Here's what I wrote last time: "The fourth overall pick out of Rice, Niemann never really put it together as a star; one of the the major area's in which he has struggled is in going deep into ballgames - Niemann almost always makes it through five, and usually through six, but goes into the seventh in only about a third of his starts - he usually tires after about 75 pitches." Well, in his first five starts this year (the Jays were the second), Niemann has gone 5.0, 5.0, 5.1, 5.2, 5.2. He did put up his best start of the season against the Yankees in start six, going 7 and allowing one run. In that start against the Jays Niemann took the loss after allowing 5 runs - 2 earned (I seem to recall several Evan Longoria errors) - while in his subsequent starts he's allowed 8 runs in 23.2 innings.
Niemann is a giant, standing 6'9" and weighing in at about 260 pounds, but despite his stature he doesn't throw very hard, topping out at about 92 MPH, though this year his fastball is running close to 90 MPH on average. In addition to the heater Niemann has developed a split fingered pitch over the last couple of years, to go with his righty curveball and his slider. The slider and the splitter both run in the mid to low-80s, while the curve tops out at about 78 MPH. Niemann has been using his slider and splitter a little more and his fastball and curve ball a little less so far this year. Lifetime: Jose is 5/19 with 2 home runs, EE 1/11, Yunel 0/11, Kelly Johnson 2/10, Adam Lind 13/28 with 3 home runs.
Tuesday: David Price vs. Henderson Alvarez
David Price has owned the Jays in his career, and after beating them earlier in the season he's now 10-2 in 13 starts against Toronto, holding Blue Jays hitters to a .600 OPS. So he basically makes Jays hitters look like Omar Vizquel is pinch hitting - except not by choice. Price is of course good against everyone, allowing more than 3 runs just once this season - a 5 spot to the Yankees in his last start - and posting a 2.98 ERA so far, with strong peripherals. Price possesses one of the best fastballs in baseball, and certainly the best from a lefty. He throws both a two-seamer and four-seamer, the former can runs up to 98 MPH. Amongst starters he averaged the third highest velocity in 2011, being narrowly beat out by Alexi Ogando and Justin Verlander; the year before he was fourth overall. Price mixes speeds effectively, throwing a late breaking slider around 90, a change up around 85 and a curveball around 80. The change up is probably the best of these pitches, which he throws about 10% of the time each. If you think that line against the Jays is bad, take out Jose Bautista, who is 10/28 lifetime against Price with 4 homers and 6 walks. JP Arencibia is 1 for 13, Jeff Mathis 4/14 while Edwin Encarnacion and Yunel Escobar are 5 for 21 and 18 respectively, both with a home run. Adam Lind is 6/33, while KJ is 2/13, Rajai Daviss 3/16 and Colby Rasmus 2/9.
Joe Maddon tinkers with his lineup moreso than any manager in baseball, so take this as a best guess. Other than Luke Scott DHing and Carlos Pena playing 1st, everything else is pretty much up in the air.
Ben Zobrist RF
BJ Upton CF
Matt Joyce LF
Luke Scott DH
Carlos Pena 1B
Jeff Keppinger/Sean Rodriguez 3B
Will Rhymes 2B
Jose Molina/Chris Gimenez C
Elliot Johnson SS
Leadoff hitter Desmond Jennings has sat out the last six games with a knee sprain, but it doesn't look like his condition is improving. Evan Longoria is also out, for at least the rest of this month, and the normally deep Rays lineup is showing some cracks around the edges, they've only scored more than 3 runs 3 times in their last 8 games... There was a big article in the New York Times a week ago about Joel Maddon and The Shift. It suggests that, amongst other things, the Brewers improved by 56 runs in a year by implementing the shift, which cannot possibly be/isn't the case. I think that the shift makes sense in certain situations against certain hitters, but it's impact is probably overblown, especially recently. On a related note, Brett Lawrie basically rates out as Brooks Robinson as a defender, according to Defensive Runs Saved. Then again, he did do this.
Infirmary: Evan Longoria (3B) is on the 15-day DL (for now) with a partially torn hamstring, I believe that the diagnosis is 4-6 weeks, as of 10 days ago. Brandon Allen (1B) is also on the 15-day DL with a quad strain. Kyle Farnsworth (RP) and Sam Fuld (OF) are both on the 60-day DL. Desmond Jennings (OF) is day to day with a left knee sprain.
Song to Advance Scout By: Midnight City, by M83. It is real good, as the kids say.
Chart: Chart! All data from Fangraphs.