Written by Richard Lee-Sam, Joshua Howsam, and Cole Nefsky
Has the Fire Gone out of Smoak?
With the Blue Jays already eliminated and the Red Sox five games up on the Yankees with seven games to go, it looks like there isn’t much left to care about in this series aside from seeing if Justin Smoak can snap out of his cold spell. After belting 38 homers in the first five months of the season, Smoak has gone completely cold in the month of September, slashing just .202/.304/.365 after coming in at .287/.363/.570.
It would be easy to say that Smoak is looking like his former self, but he’s actually showing more discipline – walking more and striking out less – than he did earlier this year. He’s just not hitting the ball out as much, seeing his HR/FB rate go from 23.5% from April to August to just 6.5% in September.
I’m also not sure why, but people on Twitter have been fixated on the number 40 with Justin Smoak and what looked like a sure thing at the beginning of September now looks to be danger.
If Justin Smoak hits 40 this year, I will take 40 shots
— Richard Lee-Sam (@RLeesam) June 30, 2017
The good news here is that Smoak has been a much better hitter when hitting from the right side of the plate this year – and the Red Sox will start two lefties this series. Couple that with the fact that he has an OPS of .896 in 109 plate appearances at Fenway and maybe, just maybe that Green Monster in left field will help Smoak get there.
Smoak has just six games remaining to do something noteworthy in what has been an otherwise abysmal season for the Blue Jays. He could reach that magic number of 40 by just pulling fly balls over the course of the next few days. Ordinarily, something like this wouldn’t be that big of a deal, but the tears for Jose have dried and now we need one last thing to cheer for. Toronto only has nine players with 40+ homer seasons as a Blue Jay. Smoak, with a good series, can become the 10th and make the good people of Twitter happy…for some reason.
Sale Cy Watch
The fight for the American League Cy Young Award has been a fascinating thing to watch during the second half this year. Things seemed pretty one-sided at the All-Star Break with both Chris Sale and Corey Kluber sporting mid-season ERAs of 2.75-2.80, but with Sale having four extra starts, the slightly lower ERA, and 53 strikeouts. But since that time, Corey Kluber has turned into a completely unhittable pitcher, going 11-1 with a 1.79 ERA and 139 punchouts against just 12 walks in 105.1 innings.
In the mean time, Chris Sale has been almost the exact same pitcher he has been all season, but has actually UPPED his already elite strikeout rate from 35.9 percent in the first half to 37.0 percent in the second. He is on pace for the third highest ever strikeout rate by both K/9 and K% (behind Randy Johnson in 2001 and Pedro Martinez in 1999). He also has reached 300 strikeouts, becoming the second pitcher since 2002 (Kershaw had 301 in 2015) to reach that milestone.
Corey Kluber leads in WARP (8.09-7.88) and bWAR (7.8-6.2), but Sale leads in fWAR (8.2-7.1). Kluber has closed the innings gap to just 11 1/3 IP and leads big in ERA (2.27-2.75), but Sale leads by just as wide a margin in strikeouts (300-262).
In the end, this will come down to how people value strikeouts vs. run prevention, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t still time for people to make their own cases. Kluber pitched well on Sunday in what is likely his last full outing of the year (he’ll probably only throw a few innings this week), but Chris Sale will be making his final full start against the Blue Jays.
Why does that matter? Because if you’ve been watching at all this year, Chris Sale absolutely OWNS Toronto. If he wanted to bolster his Cy Young case, he couldn’t have picked a better opponent.
In three starts against Toronto this year, Chris Sale has thrown 22 innings, struck out 35, allowed just 13 baserunners (11 hits, 2 walks), and oh yeah…zero runs. 22 innings, 0 runs. For those keeping score at home, that’s an ERA of 0.00. If he can repeat his good fortunes with another similar outing, he could make a very strong final impression on Cy Young Voters. Look for some flailing on Tuesday.
Boston’s Young Stars Give Hope for Toronto’s Future
With the season winding down right now, the stakes of this intra-divisional rivalry have never been lower. The Red Sox have not yet clinched the division, but it won’t take much to get them there, meaning that they’ll be quick to move to their call-ups both in the pen and on the field. What you can do is take this time to appreciate the quality of the Red Sox player development in recent seasons.
Even with the Dave Dombrowski fire sale, the Sox have a tremendous amount of young talent on their roster. With Andrew Benintendi, Jackie Bradley Jr., Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers, and anyone else I’m forgetting, they have the core that can hold this team in contention for years on end. What you, as a Jays fan, can be excited about is that the man credited with building much of that is in the Jays front office right now. Ben Cherington, the Vice President of Baseball Operations, along with Gil Kim, Eric Wedge, and everyone else in the Player Development department have done a great job building up the Jays system and aren’t even done yet. The quality of the players they’ve developed from the lower rounds is in part a testament to that.
That and their drafting. Another person pulled from the Sox organization was just in charge of his first draft. Steve Sanders came from the amateur scouting department with the Red Sox. And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the first of the Red Sox imports currently in the Jays front office, Mike Murov. The point I’m trying to make here is that even if things don’t look good now, most of this front office comes from two organizations previously, the Indians and the Red Sox, and they’re both doing very well right now. It’s a sign, hopefully, of what’s to come for your Toronto Blue Jays.
Lead Photo © Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports