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Game #11 Preview: Kikuchi vs Eovaldi

Blue Jays (6-4) vs Red Sox (5-5)

Oakland Athletics v Toronto Blue Jays
Background: TORONTO, ON - APRIL 17: Vladimir Guerrero Jr. #27 of the Toronto Blue Jays dumps ice water on the team’s language interpreter Hector Lebron.
Photo by Cole Burston/Getty Images

After a short stop at home, the Blue Jays hit the road to Boston to take on the Red Sox for a 3 game series, beginning tonight at 7:10 ET.

Blue Jays’ Starter

Yusei Kikuchi will get the start for the Blue Jays, his second of the season with his new organization. Kikuchi faced the Yankees his first time out, and ran into a bit of trouble right from the get go. He allowed a walk and double in the first, but thanks to some poor baserunning he didn’t allow a run. He gave up more hard contact in the second, allowing another double and a home run. The third inning brought promise, as he induced a trio of groundouts, two on soft contact. And then he got knocked out of the game in the fourth with a pair of hard hit singles and a walk.

Kikuchi got hit hard in that start. Of the 12 balls put in play off him, 9 were hit 95+ mph. Of those, 6 were hit off his slider, and the other 3 off his cutter. However, those are his putaway pitches, as he uses his fastball and changeup to set hitters up. So we’ll see if he starts to mix in the fastball and changeup a bit more when as he gets deeper into counts.

Red Sox’ Starter

The Red Sox will turn to their default Ace with right hander Nathan Eovaldi. Eovaldi had a fantastic year in 2021, throwing 182.1 innings to a 3.75 ERA. But he fell well short of his FIP, which came in at an AL best 2.79. He was great with the strikeouts and walks, but where he really found fortune was with the lack of home runs allowed, managing the second best rate in the AL at 0.74 per 9 innings, allowing just 15 all season long.

Fast forward to this year, and Eovaldi is striking out even more batters while being just as stingy with the walks, but he has allowed 2 home runs in each game he has pitched so far. He had just three starts in all of last year with 2 home runs, and now in 2021 he has two such starts. That has resulted in a 4.50 ERA over his 10 innings despite a 6.60 FIP, thanks to only one of those home runs having a runner aboard, and all 5 runs scored off him coming via the home run. Outside of the home runs, he has allowed just 4 hits and 2 walks, making rallies hard to come by.

Blue Jays’ Lineup

Zack Collins may have found himself a temporarily permanent home in the DH spot, as he is off to a fast start now that he has found regular playing time. In three games in the Oakland series, Collins went 6-11 with a pair of doubles and a home run, walking once and striking out just once. That series bought him some more playing time, as well as some favour among Jays’ fans.

Eovaldi pumps his fastball in there at 97 mph, so we probably won’t see Cavan Biggio in the lineup in this one. I’d expect to see Raimel Tapia in RF with Collins at DH and Santiago Espinal at 2B.

Behind the plate, with yesterday’s off day, Alejandro Kirk is probably ready to go. The Jays may opt to give him an extra day of rest as the catcher position is quite hard on the body, but I would expect that he’ll be back in the lineup today.

Red Sox’ Lineup

On the whole, the Red Sox are off to a fine start. They lead the AL East in runs scored per game at 4.5, but that’s saying more about the rough start of everyone else than it is about the Red Sox. By the end of the season, the best offenses in the division should be up near 5 runs per game.

As a group, they’re hitting .237/.290/.395, good enough for a 93 wRC+. They are right in the middle of the pack with 10 home runs, and remain one of just 2 teams in baseball without a stolen base (don’t be surprised to see that one change this week).

On the positive side of things, the players you’d expect to be leading the charge are doing so. Xander Bogaerts (153 wRC+) and Rafael Devers (163 wRC+) continue to be one of the best left sides of the infield in baseball. They’re joined by Alex Verdugo (188 wRC+) as the hardest hitters early on. JD Martinez (118 wRC+) and surprisingly Jackie Bradley Jr. (110 wRC+) are the only other hitters currently above league average.

That makes newcomer Trevor Story, who signed a massive 6 year, $140m deal right before the season started, sitting at the top of the disappointing list early on. Through his first 25 plate appearances, he’s hitting just .250/.280/.292 with just one extra base hit and a 7:1 K:BB ratio. He’ll turn it around, but it’s certainly not the start he or Red Sox’ fans were hoping for.

Yesterday’s Heroes

Yordan Alvarez went 3-5 with a pair of home runs, driving in 4 on his way to taking home the Monster Bat award. Alvarez’ output helped his Astros take down the Angels 8-3.

Keegan Thompson threw 3.2 fabulous innings of relief for the Cubs, holding the Rays to just 1 walk and 1 hit with 5 strikeouts in a tight game. He took home the win in that one, and also gets the WPA King trophy for that work, giving him a .434 WPA for the day.

Chad Kuhl had a dominating outing for the Rockies, throwing 6 shutout innings on just 2 hits and a walk, striking out 4 to pick up the Pitcher of the Day award. He also got the win in the Rockies’ 4-1 win over the Phillies, running their early season record to a very impressive 7-3.

Find the Link

Find the link between Trevor Story and Dee Strange-Gordon.

Stats retrieved from Fangraphs and Baseball Savant