The Yankees and Blue Jays meet in Toronto for what feels like the 300,000th time this season though in actuality will be the sixth and final match-up between the two. I was already sick of Toronto in the last Series Preview, and I can't say I'm exactly thrilled to see Mr. Newest-Member-of-the-50-Home-Run-Club yet again. The Blue Jays have been a thorn in the Yankees' side all season, and at 8-7 (4- 2 at Rogers Centre) are one of only three teams with a winning record against the Yankees this season -- the others being the Rays and Phillies. As I've written numerous times, it seems like the Jays should be a way better team than their record would indicate, but as we've also discussed several times before the team's biggest issue has been its OBP -- while they slug a prodigious amount of home runs, apparently no one's ever on base.
Assuming the majority of this team will be back next season, Toronto GM Alex Anthopoulos has to go out and sign players that can get on-base at above a league-average rate, which is around .328 this season. Only five Jays starters have topped that mark this season, and three of those are only over it by a scant few percentage points -- Lyle Overbay (.332), Fred Lewis (.332) and Vernon Wells (.329). Between the team's powerhouse starting pitching and quality bullpen (though I imagine Scott Downs -- 2.83 ERA, 3.13 FIP -- will have numerous suitors) they would appear to be just a few patient bats away from really causing some trouble in an already powerful American League East. Add in what will presumably be an even better Orioles team, and the competition level in the 2011 AL East could be outrageous.
In tonight's game the Jays are throwing the one starting pitcher they have that the Yankees can actually beat up on in Marc Rzepczynski (5.86 ERA; 5.07 FIP; 4.73 xFIP). He'll face A.J. Burnett (5.05 ERA; 4.67 FIP; 4.60 xFIP), whose last outing was a rain-shortened one-run affair. If A.J. can come through and the Yanks batter Scrabble the way they're supposed to, the team could clinch its postseason berth as soon as tonight.
In the second game the Yankees finally get to throw CC Sabathia (3.26 ERA; 3.56 FIP; 3.82 xFIP) against the Jays for the first time all season. That has to be some kind of record; I can't imagine many teams' aces don't get to face an intra-division opponent until the sixth and final series of the season. As mentioned previously, the Jays not having to see Sabathia has likely influenced their overall record against the Yankees to a certain degree, and I would expect Sabathia to make mincemeat out of an impatient Jays' lineup. However, if the Yankees do end up clinching Monday night, it seems likely that the team would revert back to its plan of bumping Sabathia to Friday to line him up on proper rest for Game 1 of the ALDS.
Toronto will counter with super-rookie Kyle Drabek (sweet lord, how many stud young pitchers does this team have??), son of Doug and the centerpiece of the Roy Halladay haul. Drabek's had two starts, giving up three runs in each of them. Given the fact that the team has never before seen Drabek (4.91 ERA; 5.09 FIP; 4.72 xFIP) the Yankee offense probably shouldn't even bother showing up for this one. Sabathia will have to be near-perfect to overcome what I can only imagine will be a masterful performance by Drabek.
Though I can't find confirmation outside of the Blue Jays' official site, from what it looks like Brett Cecil will get an opportunity to become the Majors' only four-game winner against the Yankees this season in the finale. I'd seen Shawn Hill's (2.86 ERA; 3.03 FIP; 3.75 xFIP) name bandied about, but Cecil makes sense considering he's lined up for this one, and the fact that he has the Yankees in his back pocket. Considering how poorly they've fared against Cecil in 2010, if you are a betting individual I don't see how you can go wrong putting money behind the glasses-wearing wonder in this one. Cecil will face Andy Pettitte, making his third start against the Jays this season. Andy's been the only Yankee pitcher who's been tough on Toronto this year, so perhaps this game won't be the sure loss it would appear to be given the Yankees' complete inability to figure Brett Cecil, the most dominant pitcher of his time, out.
Here are the two teams' offense and pitching numbers:
The Yankees have been hitting almost exactly to their season totals during the last 30 days, while Toronto's been slugging the same but getting on base even less frequently.
The Yankees' difficulties during the past month, of course, have primarily revolved around the pitching staff, though their oft-cited inability to get the many runners they have been getting on base home has of course also played a role in the team's struggles. The numbers bear this out, as on the season, the Yankees are actually last in the American League at advancing a runner at second with none out, with a 35% success rate. League average is 41%. For what it's worth, potential first-round opponents Texas and Minnesota are the top two teams in the AL, at 46% and 44%, respectively. The Yankees, at 30%, are also below league average in productive out % (Texas once again leads, at 39%); though they are near the top of the league in BRS% (Percentage of all baserunners who scored on the batter's play, not necessarily with an RBI), with a 15% rate just behind Minnesota's and Tampa Bay's 16% rates.
In any event, we'd all love to see the Yankees take two of three this series, but as long as they pick up that one victory to lock up the playoff berth I'm happy, as I'd love to see them start getting all of their key players extra rest for the long stretch drive into October.