Associated Press

With their West Coast trip out of the way, the Blue Jays (83-69) return home this weekend for a four-game series against the Yankees (79-73). The Red Sox now lead the AL East by 5.5 games. As such, the Blue Jays are now firmly focused on the Wild Card. The same can be said for the Yankees, who are only 3.0 games back of the second seed. Francisco Liriano will start the series, against Bryan Mitchell (7:07 PM). Marcus Stroman gets Saturday’s game, opposite CC Sabathia (4:07 PM). Marco Estrada will face Michael “Pine Tar” Pineda on Sunday (1:07 PM). JA Happ will get Monday’s finale, while the Yankees have yet to announce their starter (7:07 PM). With the Tigers surging in the Wild Card standings, the Jays should look for at least three wins this weekend.

The Meeting on the Mound

Friday’s start will be another pressure-filled outing for Francisco Liriano. The veteran continues to contend for a spot in a hypothetical playoff rotation. Liriano has an ERA of 2.92 over his last two starts. That’s obviously a small sample, but it’s the best he can give for the Jays to make a decision. He will look for another strong outing this week. On the other side, Bryan Mitchell is the Yankees’ latest attempt to fill out their rotation. Mitchell has had a poor season so far, as he has only managed 12.0 innings in three starts. That has added up to a 6.00 ERA. Mitchell has struggled with runners on base, so the Jays will need to be patient at the plate to get men aboard and then cash in.

Saturday’s game will see Marcus Stroman take the mound for the Jays. Stroman has had a solid (if unspectacular) month. It has certainly been an improvement on earlier in the season. Even so, Stroman has not been able to pitch deep into games recently. It has been more than a month since he pitched over 6.0 innings. With no more rest days, the Jays will want him to give the bullpen a break. The Yankees will respond with CC Sabathia. The veteran had a cool August, but has come back strong in September. The good news for the Jays is that, despite his ERA, he has sported a FIP of 5.57 this month. The biggest problem has been the long ball, which certainly suits the Jays.

Marco Estrada will get the ball on Sunday afternoon. The soft-tosser was excellent in his previous outing, when he pitched 7.0 scoreless innings agains the Mariners. Estrada will have six days’ rest for this game, which puts him off of his preferred schedule. That narrative has grown a little long in the tooth, though. The main concern will be how well his back holds up. As for the Yankees, Michael Pineda will get the start. Pineda has had a poor season. That said, he has limited the Jays to two runs over 11.0 innings. His strikeout rate is considerably higher than in the past, which could spell trouble for Toronto. He may be the most difficult matchup of the series.

The finale will see JA Happ get the start for the Jays. Due to his consistently high performance, it’s hard to argue against Happ as being the team’s best starter. Aaron Sanchez could try, but Happ has been more reliable over more innings this year. Happ was strong against the Mariners, with two earned runs over 5.0 innings (both runs could be attributed to poor defence). Similar to Stroman, the Jays will look for Happ to pitch a little deeper than he usually does. The Yankees have not announced a starter for the final game. It was meant to be Masahiro Tanaka, but he has been sidelined for a few days. No matter the backup plan, it is unlikely that he will perform quite as well as Happ. It’s never good to see a player get injured, but Tanaka’s absence will benefit the Jays.

Players to Watch

The Jays’ offence continues to be a problem. The entire team needs to step up in that regard. But more recently, their defence has also been an issue. That has been especially true for Devon Travis. While not necessarily known for playing his glove, Travis has cost the team several runs in recent weeks. It appears as though the pressure of the pennant race is getting to him. Travis has repeatedly bobbled transfers or thrown wide of 1st, due to rushed fielding. His bat has been invaluable this month, but his defence has been a liability.

The Yankees are known as a team full of old stars who are past their prime. The likes of Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira certainly helped to perpetuate that notion. Enter: Gary Sanchez. The Yankees’ catcher of the future has taken the league by storm. Since coming up in August, Sanchez has posted a line of .341/.420/.756, and a wRC+ of 208. He also has 19 home runs in only 184 plate appearances. If Sanchez had been called up earlier in the year, then he would undoubtedly be the AL Rookie of the Year. Even with so few at bats, he will still be a strong contender for Michael Fulmer’s title. The Jays will need to keep him under control for four games. That is not an easy task.

Back at the trade deadline, the Yankees seemed to make a conscious decision to pull the plug on this season. They shipped out Carlos Beltran, Andrew Miller, and Aroldis Chapman. The Yankees had at the best bullpen in baseball, but all of a sudden, Dellin Betances was on his own. Then the Yankees started winning. Unfortunately,  without the other big arms, Betances has had to deal with more pressure, and more innings. The results speak for themselves. Compare his numbers from before the deadline and after. There has been a noticeable drop-off. If the Yankees have to depend on Betances early on, then it could leave their bullpen in dire straits as the series progresses.