The Blue Jays travel to Fenway to take on the Red Sox, who were late winners on a dramatic three-run home run by Cody "The Boss" Ross. Toronto is only 2.5 games behind Boston, and 3.5 out of the final wild card spot, but six teams stand between them and the postseason at the moment, and at a guess it's going to take a minimum 86 wins (and maybe closer to 90) to make the playoffs, so Toronto has to play well over .600 ball the rest of the season to have a chance, with games against other Wild Card contenders (basically everyone) counting especially. So let's see if they can do it - let's Advance Scout.
Friday: Aaron Laffey v. Josh Beckett
Josh Beckett's underlying numbers are very similar to 2011 - his FIP has risen by .03, to 3.60 - but his fluke BABIP and LOB% numbers from 2011 have rebounded to normal, both career/vs. MLB, and his strikeouts have dropped, so as a result his boldface number, ERA, has jumped by a run and a half, to 4.44. Beckett is 32, and this is the 4th straight year his K% has fallen, from 8.88/9 IP in 2008 to 6.8/9 IP this year, although that drop doesn't look quite as dramatic when looking at K% - 23.7% to 18.1% - because Beckett has started cutting his walks, to 6% of batters faced. Otherwise he's still the same pitcher, mixing in a four and two-seamer, both pretty consistently 90-92, to go with the change (87 MPH) curve (75 MPH) and cutter (89 MPH). He can get swings and misses with all four/five pitches, and relies heavily on the cutter and curve, throwing them about 21% and 18% of the time, respectively. He and Lester are still trying to live down the beer in the clubhouse fiasco. This is his first start against Toronto this year. Career: Bautista 3/11 (2 HR), Escobar 1/11, Lind 8/19, Mathis 2/10, Vizquel 4/15.
Saturday: Carlos Villanueva v. Aaron Cook
Aaron Cook has an ERA of 3.34 and a FIP of 4.01, in 29.2 innings. Aaron Cook has 2 strikeouts in 29.2 innings.
He has managed to do this by A) only walking 2 batters in those 29.2 innings, B) only allowing 2 home runs in those innings, and C) getting a lot of ground balls. His BABIP (.248) is good but not otherworldly, and his strand rate (61%) is awful. It is all quite bamboozling, though needless to say, I am skeptical he keeps this up. He hasn't walked fewer than 3 batters per 9 inning since 2009, nor is his career mark (2.75/9 IP) particularly good. He's never really struck guys out (3.75/9 IP career), so that's not much of a change, but this number is particularly microscopic. To be fair, Cook's (spectacular) home run rate is in line with his career mark, which is also excellent, and he is basically succeeding because he's giving up a baserunner an inning, and most of them are only going to first. I am going to go out on a limb and say that making two of his five starts at Safeco and Whateverthesponsorisnow Coliseum probably helped, but it is possible Cook has lucked into some sort of voodoo magic. Possible, but not probable. In any case, the Jays will face a 33 year old righty who basically only throws a 90 MPH sinker with big right to left break. In his last start against Chicago he threw 97 pitches, 69 of which were sliders. He'll mix in a half dozen four-seamers (90-91) and curveballs (75-77) and relies on a mid-80s slider as his second pitch. Of the 390 pitchers who have thrown at least 20 innings, Cook has the lowest swinging strike percentage, at 2.1%, more than 50% behind the next lowest pitcher. (Hendy is at 4.8%, FWIW). You can read a kind of lame sabremetrics trolling piece about Cook here. Lifetime Yunel Escobar is 4/13, Kelly Johnson 1/14, EE 3/7 with a homer, and Omar Vizquel 9/25.
Saturday: Henderzon Alvarez v. Jon Lester
Like Josh Beckett, Jon Lester's 2012 is extremely similar to his 2011, except he's cut both his strikeouts and walks, but the walks by a much greater percentage. His home run rate is identical. He is, however, allowing a .331 BABIP, as opposed to last year's .286, and stranding 65.7% of runners, as opposed to 78.1%. So his FIP is actually lower than in 2011 (3.68 v. 3.83) but his ERA has risen dramatically (4.80 vs. 3.47). This has led to a ton of hand wringing in Boston, because, you know, it's Boston. The more you know! Lester is still a four pitch pitcher, working fastball, sinker/cutter (depending on whether you are Brooks or Fangraphs), change up, curve, with the fastball sitting around 92 and the sinker 93. His change up comes in the mid 80s, and the curve 10 MPH slower. The change up and the cutter/sinker are probably his best two pitches. He has been knocked around a bit in his last two starts, by the White Sox and Yankees, and is 1-1 against Toronto on the year, allowing 7 runs in 15 innings. Career: JPA is 4/20 with a home run, Jose Bautista is 10/45 with 4 home runs and 5 walks, Rajai Davis is 3/19, EE 3/20 (HR), Yunel Escobar 6/22, Adam Lind 3/24, Ben Francisco 2/14.
Jacoby Ellsbury CF
Carl Crawford LF
Dustin Pedroia 2B
Alex Gonzalez 1B
Cody Ross/Ryan Sweeney RF
Will Middlebrooks 3B
Jarrod Saltalamacchia/Kelly Shoppach C
Mike Aviles SS
Salty and Shoppach form a very effective L/R platoon at catcher, though Aaron Laffey will be the Red Sox third lefty in three days, with Shoppach getting the last two starts; still, I'd presume it would be him tonight... Jacoby Ellsbury and Hot Carl Crawford have now played 14 and 4 games respectively after missing most of the season due to injury. Cody Ross is the every day right fielder pretty much, as he is second on the team in WAR and is hitting .274/.348/.570... In fact, if you would have predicted that Ross, Mike Aviles, Daniel Nava and Salty would be 2-5 in fWAR on the Red Sox at this juncture, I would have asked how you traveled back in time from the future... The Red Sox WAR leader, David Ortiz has a strained tendon and just went on the 15-day DL, while former AL MVP Dustin Pedroia is just back off the 15-day DL, and apparently everyone is excited... after starting out strongly, Will Middlebrooks is hitting .247/.291/.446 in his last 28 games, which, I'm sure the White Sox are totally glad they gave away Kevin Youkilis for nothing now.
Infirmary: David Ortiz (DH), 15-day DL, could be back in two weeks, Daisuke Matsuzaka (SP) has an arm strain, his return is TBD, John Lackey (SP) is done with TJ from last offseason, Rich Hill (SP) could be back in August, the other Chris Carpenter (RP) could be back at the end of the month, he had a bone spur, Andrew Bailey (CL) has a right thumb injury, he might be back by the end of August, and Scott Atchison (RP) is TBD with a right forearm strain.
Song to Advance Scout By: Polaris Prize shortlist nominee Grimes with her song Oblivion.
Chart: All data from Fangraphs