After winning two of three at Fenway Park in Boston, the Blue Jays head to Texas to take on the scuffling Houston Astros. It might not feel like it, but the Toronto’s 8-5 record has them tied for top spot in the American League. The Astros, meanwhile, have lost five of their last seven games.
George Springer will return to the field where he spent seven seasons, including winning the 2017 World Series MVP. Last season, Springer hit the Injured List (for the second time) just before the Jays visited Minute Maid Park. While he was in the building and received a nice ovation, he obviously was unable to play. He’ll likely be amped up for his return this weekend, and his injury scare on Wednesday surely caused a few moments of panic.
2021 Season Series: Houston 4, Toronto 2 (2-1 Houston at Minute Maid Park)
RH Ross Stripling (0-0, 3.00 ERA) vs RH Justin Verlander (1-1, 0.69 ERA)
RH Alek Manoah (2-0, 1.50 ERA) vs RH Jose Urquidy (1-1, 7.00 ERA)
LH Yusei Kikuchi (0-1, 3.24 ERA) vs RH Luis Garcia (1-0, 2.79 ERA)
Some final thoughts from Boston and notes for the weekend in Houston
– Jose Berríos wasn’t at his best on Tuesday but made good pitches when he needed to work out of trouble. We haven’t seen his best yet, but in his last two starts he’s sported a tidy 3.27 ERA over 11 innings. The Jays are 3-0 when he toes the rubber and have scored 22 runs for him over those three games.
– Kevin Gausman’s first three starts have basically gone as good as you could have hoped. Ace stuff, ace mentality, and an ace quote after his first win for his new team.
– There were only 14 combined runs in the whole series in Boston, which was highly surprising for two teams with that much firepower. If I’d told you there were 14 combined runs in one GAME at Fenway, you wouldn’t bat an eye. The cold weather for the first two games probably played a big role. The Jays only hit two home runs in the series, and none over the Green Monster. Zach Collins and Raimel Tapia each hit a shot to right field.
– The last time Justin Verlander faced the Blue Jays, he threw his third career no-hitter, and second in Toronto. Bo Bichette, Cavan Biggio, and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. are the only guys on this team who were in the lineup that day.
– In fact, only three members of this season’s club have a hit off the 39-year old veteran. Bradley Zimmer is 2-for-5, Matt Chapman is a woeful 1-for-18 (though the 1 is a home run), while former teammate Springer is 5-for-13. Let’s hope the forearm isn’t bugging Springer anymore, but he looked awful in his two at-bats (both strikeouts) off the bench Thursday.
– Verlander has been awesome in his first two starts since missing all of 2021. In 13 innings he’s allowed just 6 hits and struck out 15. He threw 8 shutout innings against Seattle in his last start.
– I’m excited for Saturday’s contest, where the pitching matchup should favour the visitors. Alek Manoah will face the Astros for the first time in his young career, but isn’t likely to be intimidated by the likes of Alex Bregman, Yordan Alvarez, or Michael Brantley. Jose Urquidy goes for the Astros, and he hasn’t been sharp this season. Last year, the Jays roughed him up for 6 runs over 4.1 innings in Buffalo. However, in Houston, he threw 7 strong innings in a winning effort.
– Over his career in Seattle, Kikuchi has seen plenty of the Astros, and the results haven’t been great. He’s 1-5 in 11 starts with a 6.00 ERA and .272 opponent’s batting average. However, Astros players on the roster this weekend have hit just .227. Bregman is 6-for-17 with a home run, while Alvarez is 6-for-18 with two long balls against the lefty.
– The Astros as a team rank in the bottom five of the league in batting average, hitting a paltry .199 on the season. The lineup that was a menace for so many years looks a little toothless after removing Springer, Carlos Correa (to Minnesota), and Jose Altuve (on the Injured List).
– The Blue Jays bullpen has allowed an opponent’s average of just .191, and posted a 0.97 WHIP, both good for 4th best in the league.
– Despite some marginal gains over the last two days, the Blue Jays still rank 28th in the league hitting with runners in scoring position (.167). The Astros aren’t much better, up at 25th (.190)
– A source confirmed to Jays Balk that the Blue Jays were one of the teams hit by a manufacturing issue from Nike that saw the arrival of alternate jerseys delayed. The powder blue uniforms arrived in time for them to be worn on Sunday in the finale against Oakland. As of Sunday, the darker blue jerseys hadn’t arrived yet, but clearly made their way to Boston, and the Jays have worn them each of the three games they were available. You can follow the Jays uniform schedule and results here.
Houston placed 2B Jose Altuve on the Injured List, retroactive to April 19 with a right groin strain. He’s eligible to return when the teams meet again next weekend in Toronto and the initial belief is that’s a realistic target. The Astros are also missing closer Ryan Pressley, out with a knee injury. He’s eligible to be activated for the finale on Sunday, and there’s belief in the Houston camp he’ll be ready to go then.
Sunday will mark two weeks since catcher Danny Jansen’s last game. He’s expected to miss a few more weeks with the oblique injury. Outfielder Teoscar Hernandez has remained in Toronto to rehab his oblique injury as well. The Silver Slugger has missed seven games since suffering the injury eight days ago. Even the most optimistic prognosis will likely see him out through next weekend’s home stand, by which point he’ll have missed two and a half weeks. Lefty Hyun-Jin Ryu will miss his first start this weekend, and is expected to miss another two with his forearm injury. It appears the Jays are scrapping plans to move to a six-man rotation, at least for now.
Following their weekend in Texas, the Blue Jays return home for a deja vu week. First up is the Red Sox (and we’ll see which unvaccinated players don’t make the trip) for four games, followed by another three-game weekender against the Astros.