This isn't playoff baseball, but it's pretty damn close. The Rogers Centre will be deafening this weekend, as a series win gives the Blue Jays a share of the lead in the American League East. Toronto enters tonight one game back of Boston for the division lead, while this may be the last time David Ortiz plays in Toronto.
Falling two games behind the Red Sox would put a major dent in Toronto's chances. These two teams won't play each other until a season-ending series in Boston, which could end up as a winner-take-all matchup for the division. Marco Estrada, J.A. Happ, and Aaron Sanchez are given the task of shutting down the league's best offence.
- Rick Porcello (3.23) vs. Marco Estrada (3.56)
- Eduardo Rodriguez (4.83) vs. J.A. Happ (3.34)
- Clay Buchholz (4.99) vs. Aaron Sanchez (2.92)
Game one of this series could have the largest impact, as a victory would put the Jays in an excellent position with the team's two best pitchers still to pitch. Both Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts enter in a bit of a slump, but players such as Hanley Ramirez, Travis Shaw, and Dustin Pedroia are seeing the ball well of late. As always, watch out for David Ortiz.
Rick Porcello's been great all season, but his play since the start of August is even more impressive. Over his last 7 starts, Porcello has pitched at least 7 innings, surrendering 3 earned runs or less in each appearance. He owns the second lowest walk-rate among qualified starters, so Toronto's hitters will have to earn their way on with base hits. Do not expect many free passes.
Although he's a right-hander, Porcello's fared better against lefties this year, which should work to the Blue Jays advantage. He throws a fastball approximately 60% of the time, which can be either of the four-seam or two-seam variety. He also mixes in a slider, curveball, and changeup, but the latter is rarely used against right-handers.
Ultimately, the Jays should be ready for his terrific two-seam fastball, a pitch that can become very difficult to hit on a line. This looks to be a very difficult matchup for Toronto, as Marco Estrada's recent struggles are extremely concerning. He owns a 7.29 ERA over his last 4 starts, and declining velocity could be having a major impact.
Boston's starter will be a 23-year old southpaw in Eduardo Rodriguez, who brings a ton of velocity from the left side. He's struggled greatly against right-handed hitters this year to the tune of a 5.30 FIP, but is coming off 8 innings of 1-hit ball. He also owns a 2.57 ERA over his last 6 starts, so he's been effective of late, but he's in for a major challenge against so many big right-handed hitters. In addition to both a four and two seam fastball, he will also mix in a slider and changeup.
J.A. Happ is having a terrific season, but just like Estrada, he's struggling of late. Happ couldn't make it out of the third inning in his last start against Tampa Bay, and he did not fare all that well in his previous start against Baltimore either. Let's hope for a bounce-back game from Happ, or at least a fair share of run support against a young lefty.
After a stint in the bullpen, Buchholz rejoined Boston's rotation in San Diego, pitching 6.2 innings of 1 run ball. In fact, Buchholz has allowed just 1 earned run in each of his last 3 starts, and he will be looking to build off this streak against a dangerous Toronto lineup.
On the other hand, it's been a very rough year overall for Buchholz, as his 4.99 ERA indicates. His strikeout rate is down, his walk rate is up, plus he's been extremely homer prone. His arsenal includes a fastball, cutter, changeup, and curveball, but no slider. As a result, Buchholz does not carry huge splits, so Toronto's right-handed hitters will be given a reasonable matchup.
Aaron Sanchez will pitch on regular rest for a change, and the young right-hander has been extremely strong all season long. Let's hope that Russell Martin returns to the lineup by this time, but I expect he may miss the first game or two due to injury.
Craig Kimbrel and Brad Ziegler form a strong late inning duo, plus the return of Koji Uehara could help Boston immensely. Robbie Ross Jr. could matchup against Michael Saunders or Justin Smoak, and can also retire his fair share of right-handed hitters. Both teams enjoyed a day off yesterday, so look out for a well-rested bullpen from both ends.The Blue Jays will want to do damage early on, as Boston's bullpen looks quite strong.
In other news, it looks like the Blue Jays will miss Chris Archer in their next series against Tampa Bay. Across the division, the Orioles will be in tough against the Tigers this weekend, while the Yankees take on Tampa Bay. Enjoy your weekend of watching baseball, and let's hope the Blue Jays can even things up in the American League East. There's nothing better than beating John Farrell.