Beginning tonight the Yankees get to face the Blue Jays at home for the second straight Labor Day weekend. Last year at this time they were able to run their season-high winning streak to eight before the Jays finally snapped it in the Sunday matinee. That would actually prove to be something of a turning point for the 2010 Yankees’ season — the team sat at a comfortable 86-51 after that loss to Toronto, in first place by 2.5 games, but played some pretty uninspiring baseball the rest of the way through, only winning nine games after September 5th, finishing the season’s last 25 contests with a 9-16 record.
The Yankees and Jays last met in mid-July, splitting a four-game set at Rogers Centre. The Jays have continued to play right around their true talent level since then, going 22-19. For the second straight year the Blue Jays boast a top 5 AL offense (.325 wOBA, 103 wRC+) and, while perhaps not quite as prolific at the extra-base-hit as last year’s iteration, are always a threat to do damage.
On offense the Blue Jays are should-be-MVP-but-probably-won’t-win-because-the-writers-are-dopes Jose Bautista, who leads all of baseball with a 191 wRC+. Hyped rookie Brett Lawrie‘s been outstanding since joining the team in August, raking to the tune of a monstrous 207 wRC+; Yunel Escobar‘s continued his strong season (118 wRC+), and Edwin Encarnacion (121) and rookie Eric Thames (117) have also done work. Colby Rasmus hadn’t hit all that much (68 wRC+) since coming over from the Cards and is currently on the 15-day DL. You may have heard that the Jays also recently dumped Aaron Hill for the D-Backs’ Kelly Johnson, which isn’t terribly surprising considering Hill really fell off after his breakout 2009 (even if it did seem like he hit a home run every time he faced the Yanks). All told, this is a strong lineup that will probably only get better next season.
The rotation’s also gone through some changes since the Yanks last saw the Jays, as Toronto jettisoned Jo-Jo Reyes, and currently features a a fivesome of Ricky Romero, Brandon Morrow, Brett Cecil, and rookies Henderson Alvarez and Luis Perez. Alvarez is a hard-throwing (93.6mph avg. four-seamer) righty who also features a two-seamer, a cutter that apparently gets up to the mid-90s per Joe Lefkowitz (94.4mph), a mid-80s change and a low-80s slider. However, he appears to predominantly be a fastball-changeup guy, at least based on the small four-game sample of starts we have at our disposal. Perez began the year in the ‘pen until making his first career start on August 21. Perez is a lefty with a solid four-seamer (92.3mph), a low-90s two-seamer that he mostly throws to righties, and a low-80s slider and changeup. Alvarez has gotten hit around a bit harder in his four starts than Perez has in his two, and it’ll be interesting to see whether the Yankees continue their stretch of actually hitting guys-they’ve-never-seen-before, which has been a welcome change from last season. Unfortunately that won’t happen in this series, as the Yankees miss both youngsters this time out.
Probable Pitching Match-Ups
Tonight’s game (7:05pm) has Ivan Nova taking on Brandon Morrow. Morrow’s actually been Toronto’s best pitcher this year — at least by fWAR — and when he’s not running up his pitch count to unmanageable levels he has one of the most lethal fastball-slider combos in the game. Morrow’s 10.35 K/9 leads all AL starters by more than a strikeout, and has also managed to cut more than half a walk off of his BB/9. Morrow held the Yanks to one run over 6.2 innings last time he faced them, but the team’s shown an ability to get to him in the past. Nova hasn’t see Toronto since May, when he held them to two runs over 6.1 innings.
The Saturday afternoon matinee (1:05pm) features Bartolo Colon taking on Ricky Romero. Romero is having a near-carbon copy of his excellent 2010 save for the fact that his HR/9 is slightly up, leading to a slightly depressed FIP and fWAR. Ricky is always uber-tough against the Yanks, and has a 3.65 career ERA against the Bombers (excluding his wildly uncharacteristic 8 ER bomb in July 2010). A big part of the reason for that ownage is one of the nastiest changeups on the game — remember, the Yankees suck against offspeed stuff — which is set up by a 92mph four-seamer — nice velocity for a southpaw. Ricky also features a two-seamer and a high-70s curve, and really just presents all sorts of match-up problems with his ability to change speeds and dominate righties with that change. Bart had his worst outing of the season against Toronto in July but looked much better in his last go-round against the O’s.
And the Sunday afternoon finale (1:o5pm) has Freddy Garcia going against Brett Cecil. Prior to this season, Brett Cecil completely owned the Yankees. Things haven’t gone exactly as planned for the young southpaw in his third big league season, and he was actually demoted after the Yankees finally figured him out back in April. Cecil returned to the bigs in July, and was much better that month (2.19 ERA/3.85 FIP/4.01 xFIP), though he faltered in August (4.81/5.30/4.59). Cecil’s your garden-variety lefty junkballer, with a high-80s fastball and sinker, along with a mid-80s slider and low-80s changeup. I’m not really sure why the Yankees have been stymied by Cecil the way they have in the past, as he’s just not all that good (low strikeout rate, whatever BB/9, below-average HR/9, below-average GB%); hopefully they can get to him again this time. For his part, Freddy also had perhaps his worst outing of the season against the Jays that same weekend as Bart did; we’ll see if he can make the appropriate adjustments this time around.
Tornto’s always a pain in the butt, although the Yanks haven’t had quite as much trouble with them this season as in years past. A year after going 8-10 against Toronto, this year the Yankees are 7-5, and should be able to at least secure a tie of the season series this year. However, this current iteration of the Blue Jays is a bit of a different Toronto team than the one the Yankees last saw in July, and given Toronto’s propensity for hitting soul-crushing home runs at Yankee Stadium, we could be in for some high-scoring affairs this weekend.