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On Deck: Toronto Blue Jays (12-5) @ New York Yankees (8-8)

Following their quick jaunt home to play three games in 28 hours against the Royals, the Blue Jays head to the Bronx for their second four-game series of the season against the Yankees. These two clubs split the first four games of the season, and the Blue Jays have won every series they’ve played since then. Conversely, the Yankees have lost or split every series they’ve played, save for a two-game sweep of the lowly Rays in New York. They’ve battled numerous injuries as well, but meet a Jays team playing better baseball than they did at pretty much any point last season.

NYY_TOR

Now, let’s file a disclaimer. I’ve had several people apologize to me this week for scolding my off-season prediction the Jays would actually be a halfway decent team this year. And while it’s nice to see some haters eat their words, I’ll issue a caution: the Blue Jays have played some awful opponents over the last two weeks. The White Sox, Orioles, Rangers and Royals could be among the worst five teams in the American League this year. Toronto collectively won 9 of 12 games against those four opponents. The next seven days offer a huge test, with this weekend’s series in the Bronx, and the three-gamer at home against the Red Sox.  New York is better than their 8-8 record indicates, and Boston is 14-2. If they can emerge from this stretch even 3-4, I think that’s a step in the right direction to proving they belong in the conversation in this division.

Toronto New York
Thursday – 6:35 RH Aaron Sanchez (1-1, 3.66) LH CC Sabathia (0-0, 4.00)
Friday – 7:05 RH Marco Estrada (1-1, 4.24) RH Sonny Gray (1-1, 6.92)
Saturday – 1:05 RH Marcus Stroman (0-1, 7.98) LH Jordan Montgomery (1-0, 4.70)
Sunday – 1:05 LH Jaime Garcia (2-0, 3.86) RH Luis Severino (3-1, 2.63)

Sabathia will make his return from the disabled list in the series opener on Thursday. He’s made just two starts, including one in Toronto, where he limited the Jays to one earned run on five hits over five innings … Sanchez took a no-hitter into the 8th inning of his last start in Baltimore, and the increased use of his change-up has made him a tough opponent this season. The Yankees tagged him for four earned runs in 5.2 innings on March 30 … Stroman will be in search of his first win of the season, and he hasn’t quite found his footing just yet following an interrupted spring training. He’s been plagued by one bad inning in two of his three starts, but hasn’t made it into the sixth yet this year. Despite his affinity for the big moment, Yankee Stadium has not been kind to him, where he owns a 2-4 record and a 5.12 ERA in seven starts in his hometown … Severino will look to replicate his Opening Day results, where he carved through the Jays line-up to the tune of one hit over 5.2 innings en route to the victory … The six runs allowed on opening day currently represent a season-high for Toronto (again, not surprising given the offences of their recent opponents) … The Jays lead the American League in bullpen era (2.22). The next closest is Houston at 2.67. The Yankees vaunted mega-bullpen is 4.48.

Who’s Hot / Who’s Not

All stats for today’s segment are over the last 4 games played, starting last Friday in Cleveland

 HOT LF Teoscar Hernandez: 8-for-19 (.421), 3 doubles, HR, 6 RBI, 1.292 OPS
 HOT CF Kevin Pillar: 8-for-17 (.471), 4 doubles, 4 RBI, 1.206 OPS
 HOT C Luke Maile:  4-for-6 (.667), double, 4 RBI, 1.583 OPS (2 games vs KC)
 NOT C Russell Martin: 0-for-10, 4 BB, 4 K
 NOT 1B Justin Smoak: 2-for-17 (.118), double, 2 RBI

Hernandez is making a case he needs to stay on the roster when Morales is activated off the DL Friday. How you fit both of them, Grichuk, and the Pearce-Granderson platoon all in the same lineup is the challenge for John Gibbons … The Maile Man has already delivered more RBI this season than he did all of last year … We’re approaching three weeks since Smoak his his last home run … Steve Pearce is hitting .333 against lefties, which is what he’s being paid and asked to do, but also .294 against righties. It took a year, but he’s finally delivering what the Jays envisioned when they signed him … I’m fairly certain I could put together a more competitive at-bat than Gift Ngope, who is 1-for-18 this season with 12 strikeouts. He has to be nearing the end of his rope, because that backup infielder job is needed on the roster to give days off to Travis, but they can’t go much longer with a black hole in the order. The return of Josh Donaldson would help, as Solarte could cover as Travis’ backup. And we might have to wait until then because there isn’t a great option waiting in the wings, unless they want to be bold and promote Lourdes Gurriel Jr, currently slashing .333/.373/.444 with 9 RBI over his first 11 games in New Hampshire … Jays are hitting an unworldly .343 with runners in scoring position, and .309 when they get to 2 outs. Last year in those categories–.229 & .225 … Toronto’s plus-38 run differential is second in the American League, trailing only  Boston (plus-60)

Opponent To Watch

Giancarlo Stanton 

Stanton is hitting a paltry .086 at home, earning several choruses of boo birds from the cruel Yankee faithful. He’s 3-for-35 with a 20/3 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 39 plate appearances, and has just a single home run (his only one since the two-dinger performance on opening day in Toronto). He’s hit third in every game so far this season, but manager Aaron Boone said after his 0-for-4, two strikeout performance on Tuesday that he is going to consider moving the slugger down in the batting order for the series against the Blue Jays. It’s early, of course, and there’s still plenty of power in the line-up. The Bronx Bombers sit fourth in the American League in home runs with 22, three back of the Jays for second on the list. The Yankees have scored double digits in runs three times. The Blue Jays did that twice within 24 hours against Kansas City.

Dinged Up

Toronto

  • DH Kendrys Morales: 10-day DL (hamstring), is set to return to action when eligible on Friday
  • 3B Josh Donaldson: 10-day DL (shoulder), will not join the team in New York, despite being eligible for reinstatement Saturday. A return when the club opens up against the Red Sox on Tuesday has not been officially ruled out, though no timetable is known.

New York

  • OF Clint Frazier: 7-day concussion DL, has been out the entire season and there is no timetable for a return.
  • OF Jacoby Ellsbury: 10-day DL (oblique, plantar facitis, hip) has also been out the entire season with a multitude of injuries, and there’s no word on when he’ll be back in action.
  • 3B Brandon Drury: 10-day DL (migraines) was placed on the DL April 7 and a return time remains uncertain.
  • 1B Greg Bird: 10-day DL (foot) had surgery just prior to the start of the season and is expected to miss six-to-eight weeks from the time of the surgery, which would keep him out of the lineup until late May at the earliest.
  • OF Billy McKinney: 10-day DL (shoulder) was called up on the second day of the season to replace injured outfielder Aaron Hicks and injured himself the next day when crashing into the outfield wall at the Dome. He’s now into his third week on the shelf with a AC sprain and the Yankees don’t have a timetable on his return.
  • RHP Tommy Kahnle: 10-day DL (shoulder) has experienced some inflammation in his throwing arm and was placed on the DL on Tuesday.

Doesn’t this list make you think of the Blue Jays last year? While Toronto’s maladies have been to star-calibre players so far, the backups have stepped up in their absence. The Yankees have plenty of talent to go around on all areas of their roster, but are currently preaching a “next man up” mentality to help cope with the multitude of their losses.

In The Hole

On off day on Monday, followed by the commencement of a six-game home stand down at the Dome, starting with the division-leading Boston Red Sox for three. That will be followed by a traditional weekend set with the banged-up Texas Rangers.

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