Facing the Former Ace: Red Sox Series Preview

Toronto Blue Jays @ Boston Red Sox

April 15th – April 18th

That was better, wasn’t it? The Blue Jays bats seem to be coming alive after a very slow start. Toronto took the last two games against the Yankees to win the series and get their record to 5-5. Marcus Stroman was nothing short of fantastic on Thursday night as he went eight innings, allowing only two runs. The Jays starting pitching staff has been excellent as they enter into the 11th game of the season on Friday. They’ll look to continue the trend in their fourth straight series against AL East teams. Speaking of continuing the trend, Josh Donaldson hit an absolute MONSTER shot to straight away center field to give the Jays the lead last night. Since joining the Jays, that was his 26th home run where he either tied it up, or gave the Jays the lead; unquestionably the most in MLB since the start of the 2015 season. Hopefully Donaldson will be able to up that number as the Blue Jays take on David Price for first time this season.

Pitching Matchups:

Friday, April 15th – 7:10 PM ET

R.A. Dickey vs. Rick Porcello

R.A. Dickey will be getting the first start in a redemption series against the Red Sox. Last Saturday, the Red Sox tagged Dickey for seven runs (six earned) over five innings. It wasn’t all bad for Dickey, as he did fan nine batters, a feat he didn’t accomplish throughout the entirety of the 2015 season. Dickey has yet to record more than 15 outs in a game, but has seen success pitching in Fenway Park in the past. In a small sample of 47 innings at Fenway, Dickey has only walked six batters while striking out 44. It is nice to see Dickey getting the start in the first game as it sets up the ‘Dickey Effect’ for the rest of the staff over this four game series.

With Rick Porcello, we get a carbon copy of the same pitching matchup from last week. Porcello’s only start of the season came against the Jays last Saturday. He gave up four runs and seven hits over six innings, while striking out seven and walking just one. In doing that, he picked up the coveted pitcher win. Jose Bautista smacked Porcello around for two homers on the evening and I wouldn’t be surprised if Porcello gives up a few more on Friday night. In 2015, Rick had the 10th highest HR/9 in the MLB and I bet Porcello isn’t thrilled to be seeing the Jays offense twice in one week. With that said, the Jays bats have started slowly, but maybe this game will provide the launchpad the Jays have been seeking.

Saturday, April 16th – 4:05 PM ET

Marco Estrada vs. David Price

Acestrada takes the mound after a sparkling debut on Sunday. He, like so many of the Jays’ starting staff, went deep into the game, going seven innings while giving up zero runs. His changeup looked exceptional, as we have grown accustomed to seeing. He threw 27 of them, inducing nine swinging strikes; truly phenomenal numbers for a pitcher who had a limited spring training. Look for Estrada to continue to throw his fastball high in the zone, followed by his changeup down and away.

Well, this should be fun. David Price is going to be pitching against the Blue Jays. This isn’t new, Price has made 21 starts against Toronto throughout his career, but it feels so much different. Price accumulated a majority of those starts when he was in Tampa, accruing a 2.41 ERA and an astonishing 16-2 record. Quite frankly, Price has owned the Jays. Again, I can’t help but feel that this is different. Of course, the Jays have seen a substantial upgrade since those years, and they crush left-handed hitting. It’s unfortunate that the game isn’t in Toronto, but it should still be a fun one to watch!

Sunday, April 17th – 1:35 PM ET

Aaron Sanchez vs. Steven Wright

Sanchez has built on his excellent spring training with two exceptional regular season starts. Sanchez’s achilles heel has always been his control, however, this year he has been throwing strikes non-stop. Through his first two starts, Sanchez has walked three and struck out 13; while throwing nearly two thirds of his pitches for strikes. Steven Souza Jr. had this to say when asked what was the hardest fastball he has ever faced:

He was not exaggerating at all. Sanchez has averaged 95.4 mph on his sinker with 9.5 inches of horizontal break and 7 inches of vertical break. All he has to do is hit the zone consistently and the combination of movement and velocity will take care of the rest.

The series will feature its second knuckleballer when Steven Wright takes the mound for the Red Sox on Sunday. We saw him last week, which has been his only start of the year. He pitched a great game going 6.2 innings, giving up two runs (one earned). Wright was given a long leash, throwing 118 pitches; and why not, he was rolling along. The Jays aren’t used to hitting against a knuckleballer, but having more practice can’t hurt. It’ll be exciting to watch the extreme velocity contrast between the two starters on Sunday afternoon.

Monday, April 18th – 11:05 AM ET

J.A. Happ vs. Clay Buchholz

J.A. Happ will be commencing the final game of the series on Monday morning. Yes, morning…in the very early goings, Happ has reaffirmed the front office’s decision to sign him to a three year, $36 million deal in the offseason. Hopefully J.A. will continue to show consistency every time he toes the rubber. In both starts, he has gone six innings, giving up seven hits and striking out four. If this is the J.A. Happ we can come to expect, I will absolutely take it.

Clay Buchholz has not had a good start to his 2016 season. He has been tagged for 5 runs in both his starts and has given up far too many fly balls (20; 3 left the park). Contrastingly, Buchholz has induced only nine groundballs and seven line drives! However, Clay has shown an ability to turn around a slow start before. In 2015, he had an April ERA of 5.76 but finished the season very respectfully at 3.26. Perhaps he takes a while to get going, but in any event, expect Buchholz to rely on his sinker and cutter to get ahead in the count, followed by his curve and change to get hitters out. The Jays hitters have to forget Buchholz’s crooked numbers so far and respect him for what he has been able to do in the past.

The Lead

With their first home stand — one with more than its fair share of ups and downs — firmly in the rear view mirror, the Blue Jays have set sail for Boston where they’ll open up a four game series starting Friday night. With another three games in Baltimore following suit and no off-day in between, it’s a refreshing opportunity for the Blue Jays to escape the pressure, metaphorically loosen the grip on their bats, and rediscover the identity that made them the single most terrifying offensive juggernaut of the past decade. On their way to 891 runs — 127 ahead of the second place Yankees, averaging an absurd 5.5 per game — the Blue Jays led baseball with a .188 isolated power, and their 18.5 percent strikeout rate ranked fifth best. Thus far, they’ve been struggling in both categories. With a squad full of right handed hitters and a big, ugly green wall out in left field, here’s hoping Fenway is the cure for what’s ailing them.

Additions and Subtractions

Ambidextrous reliever Pat Venditte was called up from the Bisons on Wednesday, with Arnold Leon being designated for assignment to balance the ledger. Leon is out of options, and it seems probable he’ll find his way down to Buffalo upon his clearance of waivers. In Blake Swihart the Red Sox are carrying just one switch hitter — the kryptonite for the double-dealing Venditte — giving him the potential to be a useful second lefty in the series. In lower leverage situations when Cecil’s services would be overkill, look for Venditte to be assigned with handling the likes of David Ortiz, Travis Shaw, Brock Holt, and Jackie Bradley Jr.

The Red Sox have been busy since we last saw them, placing the belt-busting wunderkind Pablo Sandoval on the 15-day disabled list with a left shoulder injury and demoting outfielder Rusney Castillo to Pawtucket. In their stead, the Red Sox have siphoned a couple of pieces off their Triple-A roster, recalling Christian Vazquez — which brings them to three catchers on the active roster — and Josh Rutledge to provide them with some depth off the bench. Eduardo Rodriguez, the lefty who impressed as a rookie in 2015, remains at least a couple of weeks away.

Keep an Eye On

Jose Bautista

As if you needed another reason to watch the Blue Jays right fielder on the destructive rampage that is his contract year, Senor Bats has chewed up Porcello’s sinker to the tune of a .464/.545/.786 career slash line across 28 at-bats. The two faced each other just a week ago, when Bautista took Ricky deep twice in the span of three innings. Look for the three-time Silver Slugger to feast.

The Knucklebattery

Last season, Josh Thole was charged with four passed balls in 127 innings behind the plate, with his pitchers accounting for another three wild pitches. In R.A. Dickey’s last start alone, which spanned just five innings, Thole was charged with two passed balls and the knuckleballer had a wild pitch to boot. At an average of 74.6 miles per hour Dickey’s knuckleball had its lowest velocity since April 24th, 2015, but this appeared to have a tangible impact on its eccentricity as it was flying all over the place — including to the outfield corners with regular frequency. Can the two keep the animal on its leash this time around?

David Price

Remember this guy? The Blue Jays once beloved rent-an-ace; the monstrous left hander with a dynamite fastball, faces his former teammates for the first time after weather issues in Cleveland postponed his scheduled trip to the mound in Toronto. While the Blue Jays have built a well-earned reputation for pummelling left handers into submission — they mashed .278/.354/.463 against southpaws in 2015 — things aren’t likely to come quite so easy against Price. Changeups are used to help neutralize the platoon advantage, and over the last three years David has developed his into a beauty. By year its usage rate has steadily increased; 16.70 percent, 19.83 percent, 22.64 percent, and 25.73 percent from 2013 through 2016, respectively, and it’s lethality has followed in tow. Through two starts this season, he’s thrown 53 changeups, 29 have been swung at, and 15 were whiffed on.

Probable Lineup

Toronto Blue Jays

Boston Red Sox

Kevin Pillar (CF) Mookie Betts (RF)
Josh Donaldson (3B) Dustin Pedroia (2B)
Jose Bautista (RF) Xander Bogaerts (SS)
Edwin Encarnacion (DH) David Ortiz (DH)
Troy Tulowitzki (SS) Hanley Ramirez (1B)
Chris Collabello (1B) Travis Shaw (3B)
Michael Saunders (LF) Brock Holt (LF)
Ryan Goins (2B) Blake Swihart (C)
Josh Thole (C) Jackie Bradley Jr. (CF)

via Roster Resource

Final Thoughts

This four game series is a bizarre one, with each game starting progressively earlier in the day. After Friday’s typical 7:10 pm first pitch, the weekend starts are 4:05 pm and 1:35 pm, respectively, before Monday’s 11:05 am start on getaway day. Monday is the Boston marathon down in Boston, which evidently means the baseball game needs to start before most establishments are serving adult beverages. I don’t get it, either.

Lead Photo: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

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