Written by Mike Passador, Andrew Munn, and Greg Wisniewski
Coming in Hot
The Blue Jays have done well to climb out of an early hole, but can’t seem to crack .500. They found themselves gifted with four consecutive series against lackluster opponents but have squandered their opportunity thus far, having dropped the first two sets against Oakland and the White Sox. While the Rangers might’ve looked vulnerable this time two weeks ago, they’ll kick things off against the Jays at 34-34 as owners of an 8-3 record over their last 11 games.
Texas has been scorching offensively, averaging 5.8 runs since their short set with the Mets that began on June 6th, thrice hitting double digits. The Rangers have collected 36 extra base hits over that 11 game stretch, with at least one homer in every single contest. They’ve hit 19 dingers in total, with four of them coming from Rougned Odor. The Rangers are heating up with the weather and it could portend trouble if the Jays’ starters are even slightly off.
Toronto will trot out the typically-excellent Marco Estrada tomorrow night but he’s been struggling as of late, pitching to a 12.08 ERA while giving up four home runs over his past three starts. Estrada has had his share of memorable outings against Texas but it’s most certainly a case of poor timing as they come in on a home run binge. Marcus Stroman will close the series and is coming off a disappointing outing in which he gave up three long balls to the White Sox, though that seems far more a blip on the radar than anything else.
Of course, all that power comes at a cost. The Rangers rank 25th in MLB in terms of both total strikeouts and strikeout rate, with 612 K’s accounting for 24.3% of their plate appearances. For reference, the Jays are 20th and 17th respectively with 525 strikeouts and a strikeout rate of 20.9%. It’s been even higher over the past two weeks as the Rangers are the worst in the league with a K rate of 27.3%. Texas isn’t even swinging wildly – their problem is actually connecting with the ball. The Rangers are dead last in contact percentage over the last two weeks and just 29th over the whole season, so they’re prone to whiffs. While strikeouts are always nice, it’s hard to imagine a better time for Estrada, Stroman, Francisco Liriano and Joe Biagini to bring their best swing-and-miss stuff to Arlington.
The Return of Tyson Ross
The Blue Jays return to Texas this week to face a Rangers team that is currently dealing with some major injuries to their rotation. Cole Hamels will be making his final rehab start this week recovering from an oblique injury, Andrew Cashner was just placed on the disabled list with an injured oblique of his own, and A.J. Griffin is still healing from an intercostal strain suffered during the Rangers’ trip to Toronto. Looking to fill some holes in their rotation, Texas is turning to a pitcher who is no stranger to the disabled list himself – former Padres ace Tyson Ross.
Ross was signed to an incentive-laden $6 million contract this offseason after pitching only 5 1/3 innings with the Padres in 2016. Before his shoulder troubles last year, the right-hander was putting up dominant numbers with San Diego, recording an ERA of 3.07 over 516.2 innings pitched from 2013 through 2015. After missing 2016, Ross underwent surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome in October. He made his first start of the season on Friday against the Mariners, where he went 5.2 innings, giving up two runs while striking out five and walking three.
It would be unwise to read too deeply into his stats from one start, but it is noteworthy that his fastball velocity against the Mariners sat at 89.5 mph, down significantly from his career average of 93.1 mph. If this trend continues, the former high-strikeout pitcher may have trouble getting balls past the Blue Jays on Wednesday. Furthermore, Ross has now moved from the spacious Petco Park to the hitter-friendly confines of Globe Life Park, which could inhibit his once-stellar ability to limit homers. There are many question marks surrounding Tyson Ross going into his start against the Blue Jays, meaning it will be worthwhile keeping an eye on how he performs.
No More Dyson Sucking the Place Up
Last year’s Rangers closer, and the anti-hero of the 2015 ALCS, Sam Dyson, has packed his bags and headed for San Francisco. It’s a shame, really, since just about every opponent he faced this year in the AL pounded his pitches relentlessly. Dyson’s ERA of 10.80 and WHIP of 2.5 were numbers you could really sink your teeth into. Time to meet (or get reacquainted with) the new closer on the lock: Matt Bush.
Yes, the Rangers replaced the man who blamed his failure in the playoffs on a bat flip with the guy who threw a baseball at Jose Bautista seven months later to prove that… I don’t know. I’m not thinking Matt Bush proved anything by drilling Jose with a pitch, other than the fact that a pitcher can get away with doing that and not get suspended.
Come the ninth inning, if the Rangers have a slim lead, the Blue Jays will be facing living proof that you can be a horrible person and still keep an MLB job. All you have to do is throw 100mph. Bush was arrested in 2004, 2009, and 2012. In that time he was cast off by the Padres, Blue Jays (!) and Tampa Bay Rays (who had rapist Josh Lueke on their roster when he was useful to them). In 2012 Bush finally did jail time for one of his DUI/assault related incidents, sentenced to 51 months in prison. He was released in 2015, and having “paid his debt to society” was again available as a free agent. And of course, since he was still throwing a baseball as hard as ever, an MLB team eventually gave him a contract.
He has the right to work, and baseball is as far as I can see the only employment Matt Bush has ever had, so it makes sense for him to make as much out of it as he can. He regularly tops out over 100mph with his fastball, and even in a mix of hard throwing modern pitchers, that’s hard to find. Even his relatively low mileage arm won’t last forever. Still, if I were a Rangers fan, I’d be embarrassed to cheer for Matt Bush in a late and close situation. But cheer they will. Since taking the reins of the ninth inning this year, Bush has 11 strikeouts and four walks in 13 innings with only one blown save and having taken one loss. He has also allowed three home runs. Opponents are hitting .269/.321/.481 off of him as a group, which is really not that great. Contrast that with Roberto Osuna’s .196/.210/.299 line if you’re wondering what an elite closer looks like.
So, bad news, Matt “F@#$ing” Bush is closing games for the Rangers. Good news, the Jays might just make him look like Sam Dyson if they get the chance.
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