Written by Sean Addis, Dave Church, and Mike Passador
Next Man Up in the Rotation
Coming into the season the Blue Jays were counting on last years league best rotation to help them contend in the American League. But injuries, ineffective performances, and a lack of depth have resulted in the rotation being ranked 12th in the American League.
On Saturday, left-handed starter Francisco Liriano had to leave the game against Detroit in the second inning due to an apparent neck injury. As a result, his availability in the final game of the Boston series, against All Star starter Chris Sale, is in question.
So who could start this game?
Joe Biagini could return to the rotation. He pitched a couple of scoreless innings in Sunday’s loss to the Detroit Tigers. However, in his last 17.3 innings as a starter he has allowed 30 hits, eight walks and 20 earned runs. This included a disastrous start against Boston on July 2nd in which the Blue Jays were trounced 15—1.
Mike Bolsinger could make a spot start and allow Biagini to continue his role in the bullpen. He has pitched into the sixth inning three times in five starts and pitched in long relief after Liriano left the game on Saturday. However, Bolsinger has not been effective, coming into the series with an ERA of 5.86 and WHIP of 1.78. The only Red Sox hitter who has faced him before is designated hitter Hanley Ramirez, though, so this might possibly provide Bolsinger an edge. Maybe.
There’s also the chance that Liriano is able to take his turn in the rotation. He apparently healed enough not to need an MRI, after all. But what Liriano will show up on the mound? This season his performance has had even more of a Jekyll/Hyde theme than usual for mercurial lefty; he is almost unhittable in one game and wild and having difficulty executing his pitches in the next. He struggled in his only start against Boston on Canada Day and in a small sample size the Red Sox hitters have a slash line of .290/.370/.406 against Liriano.
The actual outcome of the game may not matter as Toronto will be facing Boston ace Chris Sale (as previously mentioned) and he has been almost unhittable. But the thing to watch might be how Blue Jays manager, John Gibbons, uses his bullpen for the first three games in the series as well as the roster moves that might be necessary to accommodate this finale of the series.
The Red Sox are no longer going to be using Sale in this game, opting to give him some extra rest after his high workload and the club being involved in 14 games in 13 days. They will instead be starting Brian Johnson on Tuesday, with Drew Pomeranz on Wednesday and Doug Fister on Thursday.
This is obviously good news for the Jays, as Sale has been the best starter in the American League this year and has dominated Toronto both times he has faced them in 2017.
A Blasted Bullpen
The All-Star break was supposed to be a welcome break for an overworked Blue Jays bullpen. While they did manage a split against the Astros, the two losses were of the blowout variety and forced the bullpen to cover 12.1 of the 18 innings in those games. A bullpen that started the year without a dedicated long man had two of them (Bolsinger and Lucas Harrell) and both were called into service to soak up outs in the losses.
Unfortunately, the first series against the Tigers put the Jays right back to work. Shorter outings from Liriano and Estrada meant more long nights for the relievers, who had to cover 13.1 innings in the final two games of the series. Sunday’s game going in to extras was a cruel twist of the knife – the bullpen had to come in early to cover for a short start – and work longer – only to come out on the short end of the stick.
The Jays may not have help in time for the series opener (no transactions have been announced as of the time this was written) but you can bet some shuffling will happen during the series. Joe Smith is on a rehab assignment in Buffalo, and Dominic Leone will be eligible to return to the Jays after being sent down on the 7th.
The good news for the Jays (if there is any) is that Boston’s pitching staff might only be in mildly better shape. A 16 inning marathon on Saturday was followed by a double-header on Sunday, though they benefited from long outings from starters Rick Porcello and David Price in the Sunday games.
Reinforcements can patch the holes, but what the Jays could use most is a couple of long outings from starters. A bullpen that has thrown the fifth-most innings in baseball to this point could use a breather against a potent Red Sox lineup. But however the help comes, you can bet a tired Jays bullpen will take what they can get.
While the Blue Jays are facing incredibly long odds to qualify for the postseason, there’s a portion of the fanbase and media that remains clinging to those faint hopes even as the team wallows at the bottom of the division. Though that school of thought would make the world a far more whimsical and enjoyable place to live, we’re burdened by basic probability. At 42-49 entering this four game set with the Sox, it’s make or break time if the team wants to prove they can make an actual push. This will be followed by three games against Cleveland, but after that the Jays have 10 straight games against the theoretically beatable A’s, Angels and White Sox.
Of course, Toronto is coming off another ugly series loss against an equally beatable Tigers team. With the trade deadline coming up in two weeks (in the middle of that presumed “easy” stretch), losing three or four games to Boston should officially put the final nail in the coffin and kick off a fire sale that would set the team up for the future.
If they can hold their own against two of the AL’s best over the next seven days, perhaps things get interesting by the time the calendar flips to August. While management should probably be selling no matter what, they could be a little more hesitant if the team is within a game or two of .500. Given the fact that some people will hate this regime no matter what they do, the optics of selling off players as the team goes on a late charge would be pretty unfortunate.
If the Jays are to somehow take three from Boston, they’re set up fairly well to do so. Toronto will deploy Marcus Stroman, JA Happ, and Aaron Sanchez against the freshly-activated Eduardo Rodriguez, mid-season signing Doug Fister, and the flighty Drew Pomeranz. Thursday’s Chris Sale start notwithstanding, that’s about as much as you can ask for.
The Blue Jays should be sellers at the deadline. There’s been nothing to hint that a big run is coming and there’s simply too many teams to realistically leapfrog in the limited time they have left. The team wants to stick together and they’ll have their chance to make a statement over the next week. If things continue as they have been lately, it’ll get blown up. This series in Fenway could be their final stand.
Lead Photo © Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports