Anyone taking a road trip to Boston this weekend? If so, perhaps we’ll run into each other. I’ll be the dude rocking the old-school, powder blue George Bell jersey somewhere in the Green Monster who’s most likely arguing with a local over how 1986 wasn’t Bill Buckner’s fault.
As always, the amount of Blue Jays fans that make the trip to Fenway are strong in numbers. It may not be able to compete with the massive turnout that recently took Seattle by storm, but this final series of the regular season promises to keep the U.S. Border Patrol busy checking Canadian passports nonetheless.
It’ll be my first time visiting, so needless to say, my goosebumps are growing by the minute. But speaking of needless things to say, you don’t have to be in attendance for this series to provide an extra amount of chills with what’s at stake.
With the Jays dropping two straight, and failing to eliminate Baltimore from the playoff conversation (they now sit tied for the top Wildcard spot), this weekend won’t be short on any nail-biting entertainment value. Not to mention the fact that Seattle, who held up their end of the fight late last night, have crept closer into the picture and now sit just two games back.
As for Detroit, they remain a minuscule game and a half out. And if the roller-coaster month of September has taught us anything, the chances that Thursday’s postponed matchup between Detroit and Cleveland, which will now only be played “if necessary”, will indeed turn out to be necessary, well, would you bet against it?
Did I say “nail-biting” before? Actually, considering the Tigers and Mariners get the opportunity to face the likes of Atlanta and Oakland — and their combined 133-184 record — feel free to hit the panic button while you’re at it. The Yankees’ chances of running interference against the Orioles are relatively high, and that does offer some solace, but in situation with such little room for error, the fact that only one out of three scenarios work in the Jays favour on paper is not an encouraging thought.
Still, the Jays have the upper hand in the form of controlling their own destiny. However, the fact that Thursday’s performance (the possible last game of the season at home) left such an unenthusiastic taste behind, at such a significant and opportune time to boot, that upper hand loses some of its advantage when your forced to put it on the line in enemy territory.
There’s no analytic formula to back up the eye test of a team seemingly being uninspired, but when John Gibbons’ post-game pressers become a broken record of “We just got beat, it happens”, it might be time for an uptick in the sense-of-urgency department.
I get it, John, Baseball is a game of streaks, and that you’re trying to soften the spotlight the media will inevitably thrust upon the team’s lack of offence and bullpen woes. But this is September, it’s not exactly the time to portray a care-free attitude. It’s becoming contagious. It’s not like the rotation’s knack for bailing out your squad is a guarantee each time out.
But speaking of the Jays’ current (and season-long) strengths, let’s dive into who’ll be taking the hill:
The Meeting on the Mound
(Note: Matchups subject to change)
Marco Estrada: W-L: 9-9, ERA: 3.53, WHIP: 1.17, FIP: 4.18, SO/9: 8.5, BB/9: 3.3 vs.
Rick Porcello: W-L: 22-4, ERA: 3.11, WHIP: 0.99, FIP: 3.37, SO/9: 7.6, BB/9: 1.2
J.A. Happ: W-L: 20-4, ERA: 3.20, WHIP: 1.16, FIP: 3.91, SO/9: 7.7, BB/9: 2.7 vs.
Eduardo Rodriguez: W-L: 3-7, ERA: 4.68, WHIP: 1.28, FIP: 4.51, SO/9: 8.0, BB/9: 3.1
Aaron Sanchez: W-L: 14-2, ERA: 3.06, WHIP: 1.19, FIP: 3.50, SO/9: 7.5, BB/9: 3.0 vs.
David Price: W-L: 17-9, ERA: 4.04, WHIP: 1.20, FIP: 3.55, SO/9: 9.0, BB/9: 1.9
Depending on how Boston decides to play this series, each of their starters should have an asterisk attached. Will the Red Sox pump the brakes (much like the Jays did last season) and not attempt to overtake Texas in hopes of having home field advantage for however far they go in the postseason? That remains to be seen. I’d keep one eye on the Rangers-Rays series to get an inclination as to whether the likes of Porcello or Price will be on any sort of pitch counts. Not to mention the fact that Price in particular could very well be scratched from his scheduled Sunday start in order to shape their playoff rotation. Either way, with the exception of Happ vs. Rodriguez being somewhat of a mismatch (I’ll touch on the “somewhat” in a bit), the hurlers in this series represent an overall even playing field — at least on paper.
When you combine Estrada’s recent history of coming up clutch in big games with his recent dominance over his last two outings — 14 IP, 15 K, 5 BB, 5 H, 1 ER — faith can be had that his hiccups in the middle of the season might now be a thing of the past. At the very least, his delivery of late has been much more fluid than his robotic, upright and painful-looking innings over the course of the year. Despite being the biggest risk of the three to get this team back on the right track, the added intangibles he brings to the table tend to even the odds. With Porcello currently firing on all cylinders — giving up no more than 3 ER in 19 of his last 21 starts — he’ll need to channel those intangibles throughout.
A win-loss record usually doesn’t tell a proper story, but J.A. Happ has arguably been the team’s best pitcher all season. However, he does represent the perfect middle man. If the risky version of Estrada rears his ugly head, who better to put out the fire? The consistent Happ and his 51-15 K/BB ratio over his last 56.5 innings pitched could come to rescue.
Mix in Eduardo Rodriguez overcoming his early season blowups to the tune of a 2.03 ERA over his last 8 starts — capped off by a 13-strikeout performance in just 5.1 innings of work this past Sunday — and that consistency could be the difference between participating in October or just becoming a spectator.
Sanchez vs. Price is the dream matchup. And as September began, I selfishly had thoughts of wanting the last game of the season to decide the AL East crown. The drama wouldn’t get any better than a face-off between the team’s former ace, and the one who took over the position.
Well, just because that ship sailed a while ago, doesn’t mean the implications attached to this matchup will be lacking any similar dramatic narratives. With Sanchez holding the best potential in any one-game scenario, the last game of the season might just have the exact same implications as the Wildcard would.
In that same breath, Price’s turnaround this season has re-established his presence among the elite, and would surely love to be the one to seal his old team’s fate by kiboshing any postseason dreams.
Now, let’s visit the rest of the storylines.
Players/Things to Watch and The Big Picture
On the offensive side of things, take your pick from each roster. It’s no secret that each squad is capable of exploding at a moment’s notice. It’s just a matter of one lineup that’s been trending up for the long haul, and the other currently in a downward spiral.
As for Boston: All eyes will surely be on Big Papi, who has three games left until his regular season career walks off into the sunset. And with the way Ortiz has lit up the Jays at the Dome over the years, it might actually turn out to be blessing in disguise that this series is being played on the road (I’m trying to be optimistic here).
The Red Sox supporting cast is an interesting one: A savvy vet in Pedroia, the resurrection of the Hanley Ramirez we never thought we’d see again, the “bust prospect” turned proved-everyone-wrong, Jackie Bradley Jr., the 5-tool star in the making (if he isn’t one already), Xander Bogaerts, the likely AL MVP in Mookie Betts, the “can’t miss” (and proving scouts right), Andrew Benintendi, and last but not least, former Jays’ 2nd baseman (and sleeper difference-maker in this series), Aaron Hill.
As far as the Jays are concerned: Well, what happens when an offensive juggernaut isn’t operating at an optimum level? Usually, it’s only a matter of time before things get back to normal. But there comes a time when it lingers too long and starts to seep into other areas. Whether it’s starting pitchers trying to overcompensate, the defense suffering mental lapses, managers overthinking individual moments, and a bullpen (Grilli and Osuna’s bad habits in particular) that does all of the above in an attempt to clean up the mess.
With all of that said, there is an underlying issue (split into two) that the team can’t exactly acknowledge during a pennant chase.
Simply put: If the Jays ultimately fall flat (or even go all the way, for that matter), what are the odds that this upcoming series is the last set of regular season games we’ll ever see Encarnacion and Bautista suit up for in a Blue Jays uniform? I’d currently set the over/under as highly likely.
I recommend taking this series in from both ends of the spectrum. Zoom in, zoom out, then repeat.
Here’s to the least amount of speed bumps occurring this weekend. Here’s to the eventual matchup everyone wants to see (Jays-Rangers), one that is currently aligned I might add, actually taking place.
And here’s to seeing some of you atop the Green Monster!
In Closing: Dear Jose Fernandez,
You were not only a must-see when you pitched, but it’s clear you also had an everlasting positive effect on the people around you. You will be missed. RIP.