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5/2-5/4 Series Preview Vs. Toronto Blue Jays

The Story So Far

The red-hot Yankees (16-6) make their first trip north of the border to take on the Blue Jays (15-8). The Yankees are winners of nine straight and are looking like the strong World Series contender fans hoped they could be. Toronto has not played their best baseball but have managed to pull-out close games, as their last four wins all were by only one run. This series is an opportunity for both teams to stake claim as the alpha of the AL East.

Projected Lineup (2021 stats)

While it’s unfair to say the Blue Jays lineup has struggled this season, they have not quite performed to their lofty expectations, ranking 10th in baseball in wRC+ so far. Here is the lineup you can expect to see this week.

  1. George Springer (R) DH (.264/.352/.555, 140 wRC+)
  2. Bo Bichette (R) SS (.298/.343/.484, 122 wRC+)
  3. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (R) 1B (.311/.401/.601, 166 wRC+)
  4. Lourdes Gurriel Jr. (R) LF (.276/.319/.466, 107 wRC+)
  5. Matt Chapman (R) 3B (.210/.314/.403, 101 wRC+)
  6. Alejandro Kirk (R) C (.242/.328/.436, 106 wRC+)
  7. Raimel Tapia (L) RF (.273/.327/.372, 76 wRC+)
  8. Santiago Espinal (R) 2B (.311/.376/.405, 115 wRC+)
  9. Bradley Zimmer (L) CF (.227/.325/.344, 89 wRC+)

The Jays will be without 2021 All-Star outfielder Teoscar Hernandez and catcher Danny Jansen and continue to display a lack of depth in the lineup.

Matt Chapman was brought in to fill the massive hole left by the departure of Marcus Semien, and so far he has yet to make a great impression. He has been stellar defensively, but his strikeout rate has continued to get in the way of him reaching his offensive ceiling. He ranks in the 94th percentile in average exit velocity, but his 18.5% line drive rate is too low to capitalize on hard hit balls. Chapman will always be an intriguing player capable of MVP-caliber seasons (finished top seven in 2018 and 2019) but is likely settling in as a glove-first, power-over-hit player.

Santiago Espinal is proving his 2021 performance was legit after a strong month of April. Espinal enters the series with a .261/.325/.435 slash and his batted ball metrics show even more. He is in the 88th percentile in expected batting average and 93rd in outs above average, getting his first opportunity to play second base full-time. It looks like the Jays found an infielder who will be at the least an excellent utility player for them during the foreseeable future.

Probable Pitchers

Monday (7:07 ET): LHP Jordan Montgomery vs RHP Ross Stripling

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Montgomery has been one of the Yankees most reliable starters over the past few seasons and this year is no different. In fact, he is beginning to establish himself as a mid-to-top of the rotation pitcher, an outcome few could have foreseen. He owes a lot of his increased success to his abandoning of his four-seam fastball. He is still throwing the pitch 16.8% of the time, but is down from the 21.2% he threw in 2018. He began a transition to usage of a sinker as his main hard offering in 2021, where hitters bashed for a .412 wOBA against it. So far in 2022, that number is down to a minuscule .186. If he can continue to get excellent results with the pitch paired with his signature curveball, Monty may be on his way to a top ten Cy Young finish.

Stripling is entering his second full season as a member of the Jays and has yet to recapture his Dodger form. In LA he pitched to a 3.68 ERA as opposed to a 4.84 so far in Toronto. Yet, he has shown some signs of improvement early this season thanks to the renewed success of his four-seam fastball. He doesn’t throw it hard (26th percentile in velocity) or with much spin (19th percentile in spin rate) but has managed to get hitters out using it as his primary pitch. In 2020, he got shellacked with it to a .490 wOBA in 2020 and didn’t improve much in 2021 at .376. However, that figure is down to .257 this year. Pair that with his 94th percentile average exit velocity allowed and low 2.4 degree average launch angle and you have a solid major league pitcher.

Tuesday (7:07 ET): RHP Jameson Taillon vs RHP Alek Manoah

Taillon has struggled a bit in his last two outings, surrendering 14 hits in only 9.2 innings. He has continued to pound the strike zone, only allowing two walks all season. He has yet to duplicate the success from 2021 with his four-seam fastball, but his expected statistics look cleaner than his real ones. Taillon seems to be settling in as an mid-rotation starter for the Bombers this year but if he can produce more whiffs (39th percentile) he can step up substantially. 

Manoah has followed up a strong rookie campaign with a phenomenal sophomore start. He is leading the league with four wins and has an exceptional 1.44 ERA. His mid 90’s fastball has enough spin (73rd percentile) and deception to limit barrels (87th percentile), and his slider is a major weapon in getting hitters to chase (80th percentile). He has yet to work in his changeup as much as one would hope (only 10% of the time) and will hit some bumps in the road if he can not utilize it more frequently. Still, having a two-pitch mix that can make it in the bigs is a great starting point for a 24 year-old.

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Wednesday (7:07 ET): Nestor Cortes Jr. vs Yusei Kikuchi

Cortes is coming off his worst start of the season against the Royals, which is saying something as he only gave up one earned run over five innings. His strikeout rate dipped but is still in the 92nd percentile, his walk percentage is 88th, and expected era is 96th. In simpler terms, his 28-3 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 20.2 innings is spectacular still. His 41st percentile whiff percentage is cause for concern when it comes to maintaining that strikeout rate, so it may be time to temper expectations. With that said, Cortes is still looking like a potential top of the rotation arm, a massive win for the Yankees.

The Yusei Kukuchi experiment is off to a rocky start in Toronto. His 5.52 ERA is bad enough until you see his 6.04 expected ERA. He doesn’t miss bats (34th percentile in whiff percentage), get hitters to chase (34th percentile in chase rate) and manages to give up a lot of hard contact (16th percentile). He simply hasn’t had the success in America as he had in Japan, and the Jays are still struggling to unlock what it is they saw in him. He’s been healthy, which is always a great attribute for the back of your rotation, but if he continues to produce the same results it is going to look like a mistake locking him up for three seasons.

What to watch:

  1. Clay Holmes: Holmes has found himself atop the Yankees reliever depth chart and will likely have some high-leverage opportunities this series. He has been terrific since joining the team relying heavily on his incredible sinker, which he is throwing a ridiculous 85.5% of the time. He should be used to neutralize the daunting righties at the top of the Jays order.
  2. Josh Donaldson: While Donaldson has maintained a strong 14.6% walk rate and solid defense at third, he has yet to look like the splashy star the Yankees had anticipated. Still, Donaldson ranks in the 72nd percentile in barrels so a trip to the Rogers Centre, where Donaldson was an MVP, may be just what the doctor ordered.
  3. Roster: Time to find out if the Yankees vaccination rates are what they claim to be. All unvaccinated Yankees are ineligible to play in Toronto, a problem which Boone proclaimed as solved. Expect to see the full squad suited up tonight but don’t be shocked to see a face or two missing.

 

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