Written by Jenn Smith, Sean Addis, and Greg Wisniewski
A Lineup Treading Water
The Blue Jays beleaguered lineup, already decimated by injuries to Josh Donaldson, Troy Tulowitzki and Russell Martin, suffered another blow Tuesday night when Kendrys Morales was removed from the game due to hamstring tightness. Morales, who leads the team with six home runs and 20 RBI and is slashing .375/.412/.938/1.349 for the past five games, underwent an MRI Wednesday morning and will be re-evaluated again in a few days, suggesting that while he may not land on the ten-day disabled list, he is likely to miss another two or three games.
The silver lining is that the Jays have managed to keep their heads above water while weathering the injury storm with lineups that resemble a mid-March spring training road game. They are 6-4 in their last ten games and have won two series in a row thanks to production from some unlikely sources.
The reason for that small amount of success is that the Blue Jays are getting some unexpected performance from those who have maintained the ability to get on the field. Kevin Pillar has the highest OBP among non-injured players (.347) and has looked every bit the leadoff hitter he has worked to become, while Ezequiel Carrera leads the team in batting average (.313). Both Pillar and Carrera sit just behind Donaldson in SLG (.468 and .458, respectively) and TAv (.274 and .268, respectively).
Ryan Goins and Darwin Barney, who have become every day players in the absence of Donaldson and Tulowitzki, are also providing greater offensive value that could have been expected (Goins only has a below average TAv of .246, but that would still be a career high), while Justin Smoak has demonstrated that regular playing time just might be key to his performance as he puts up numbers similar to his league-average production from 2015.
The issue will be whether this mishmash of journeymen and and career backups can continue to carry the load for the near term. Fatigue certainly could become an issue as playing time mounts beyond career norms and there is of course always the fear that the clock could strike midnight and these players will turn back into the pumpkins we were expecting. Sadly, there are no reinforcements on the horizon either; Troy Tulowitzki should be back soon, but not in time to help in the upcoming series against Seattle.
The Jays will just have to hope that the magic lasts just a little bit longer. Thankfully, they aren’t the only ones dealing with this…
Who are These Pitchers?
As the Toronto Blue Jays have been decimated by injuries in the lineup, the same could be said about the Seattle Mariners and their rotation. Four of their five projected starting pitchers are on the disabled list: Felix Hernandez (right shoulder inflammation), James Paxton (left forearm strain), Hisashi Iwakuma (right shoulder inflammation) and Drew Smyly (left flexor strain). The only pitcher remaining is Jays killer Yovani Gallardo and he will be missed in this series.
The Mariners will be sending former Blue Jays prospect Chase De Jong to the mound in the opener, making his third big league start. This could be useful for Toronto, as De Jong has struggled to keep the ball on the ground (29.2 %) which has left him susceptible to the long ball (three home runs in 13 innings with a normal 12.5 % HR/FB).
Christian Bergman, who had 15 career starts in Colorado over the three years, will start game two. Last season he showed a four pitch mix, but relies heavily on his fourseam fastball and slider combination.
However, besides the fastball, the other pitches do not generate a lot of swing and misses and opponents put up an OPS of .901. That wasn’t just Coors field either, as Bergman has allowed a career .295/.328/.495 line on the road.
Left-hander Ariel Miranda, who closes out the series, has struggled over seven starts recording a 5.20 ERA. Most of his pitches induce fly balls and have a hard contact rate of 31.9 percent. That combination has resulted in allowing eight home runs over 36 innings. Given the hitter’s park nature of the Dome, we could see some balls flying out of the park on Sunday.
These starters haven’t had much success over their small sample size but worth noting is that only Darwin Barney has faced any of these pitchers. Barney has two hits in four at bats against Bergman. Also, Saturday’s game does not have a starter listed for the Mariners, so it is fair to assume it will be a pitcher from the minors and another pitcher the Jays lineup hasn’t faced. It has been frequently discussed that the Jays have struggled with pitchers they face for the first time. Hopefully that trend will begin to change and the Jays can take advantage of the depleted Seattle rotation.
They called him ‘Scrabble”
Marc Rzepczynski, who some of you might remember wearing the “Black Jay” logo, returns to town. When he left in 2011 he was a talented young lefty who had been a sometimes starter, sometimes reliever in the minors and majors. What has he been up to in the last six years?
As you might expect of a left handed pitcher with only two MLB quality pitches, it’s been a life of “Have Glove, Will Travel.” Initially he was a side piece in the deal that brought Colby Rasmus from an up and down time in St. Louis to a down, then up, then down time in Toronto. That deadline deal featured eight players in total, including such revered names as Octavio Dotel, Corey Patterson, and Brian Tallet. Two years and three days later, the Cardinals found a trading partner in Cleveland and they swapped him straight up for Juan Herrera. Two years and one day after that, Marc might have felt a premonition, because he was involved in a third deadline deal, this time to the Padres for Abraham Almonte.
That offseason, which was in 2015, he was flipped to the Athletics with Yonder Alonso. That would probably be better known to baseball fans as ‘the Drew Pomeranz’ trade, since Rzepczynski is not the centrepiece of any multi-player deal. His name also makes for a difficult to write headline. Oakland kept him until August 25th of 2016, when he was moved in a post-deadline deal. He joined the Nationals as they tried to shore up their bullpen for their playoff run. After having (finally) put in enough time to take advantage of free agency, Rzep signed a two year deal with the Mariners, on December 3, 2016 for 11 million dollars.
In most years Marc has been used as a ‘situational lefty’, but the sinker/slider combination has made him more valuable than the LOOGY who dare not face a right handed hitter. In 2016 he saw 113 lefties and 102 righties, and allowed a .297 wOBA to the former and .311 to the latter. Nevertheless, the Mariners have decided to deploy him as much more of a LOOGY this year: he’s seen 21 lefties and only six righties total at this early point in the season. The move has paid huge dividends early on. Left handed batters are hitting .000/.048/.000 against him. He hasn’t given up a run in his first 13 appearances in teal, either. Expect to see Rzep called upon very briefly indeed. The Mariners have only let him face more than three batters in an outing once all season.
Welcome back again, Rzep, nice new threads.
Lead Photo © Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports