Apr 2, 2018; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Blue Jays catcher Russell Martin (55) celebrates hitting a two run home with left fielder Curtis Granderson (18) in the seventh inning against the Chicago White Sox at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

Series Preview: Royals at Toronto Blue Jays, April 16-18

This is a bit of a transition year for the Blue Jays as they no longer have their middle of the order stalwart, Jose Bautista, and have already lost Edwin Encarnacion while preparing to lose Josh Donaldson. One thing that hurt them last year was a lack of depth, and them addressing that has allowed them to start so quickly. They’ve had to rely on a couple of their depth pieces to play starting roles with Donaldson and Troy Tulowitzki on the shelf. The pitching staff is what seems likely to keep them in the race all year if they’re going to stay there. They have a strong starting five and a bullpen that is solid up and down, though does lack a good lefty back there. They’re a tough team to beat, and the Royals aren’t good, so this will be tough.

Blue Jays Vitals

Record 9-5, 2nd Place, AL East
Team TAv .259
Team K/9 9.1
Team BB/9 3.4
Team WARP Leader Yangervis Solarte, 0.6
2017 Record vs. Royals 2-4

Blue Jays vs. Royals

Royals vs Blue Jays Runs

Offense

Royals vs Blue Jays Offense

Pitching

Royals vs Blue Jays Pitching

Blue Jays Projected Lineup

AVG OBP SLG TAv WARP
Curtis Granderson .324 .405 .514 .304 0.2
Justin Smoak .288 .397 .500 .307 0.4
Yangervis Solarte .286 .423 .500 .291 0.6
Steve Pearce .233 .303 .600 .299 0.1
Russell Martin .152 .243 .333 .205 -0.1
Kevin Pillar .308 .333 .462 .291 0.6
Aledmys Diaz .237 .256 .605 .281 0.1
Randall Grichuk .071 .149 .167 .140 -0.4
Devon Travis .079 .146 .105 .106 -0.4

Pitching Matchups

Monday Tuesday, Game One

G IP W L ERA K/9 BB/9
Eric Skoglund 1 4.2 0 1 9.64 1.9 3.9
Jaime Garcia 2 11.1 1 0 3.18 9.5 3.2

I think a lot of people believed Garcia might be headed for Kansas City to replace Jason Vargas in the rotation, but instead he’s in Toronto and has had a nice start to his season. He had a bit of an odd season last year, starting with the Braves, before making one start with the Twins and finishing his season with the Yankees. He’s actually made starts for five different teams just in his last 30 starts alone. With balls flying out of the yard at a record pace last season, I’m a little surprised he wasn’t more in demand with a career ground ball percentage of 56.1 percent, but that’s only at 40.7 percent through two starts this year, so maybe teams knew something. Or maybe it’s just tiny sample noise. He has thrown a few less sinkers this year, but nothing too crazy, so I’d bet on that turning around relatively soon. Last season he allowed an OPS of about 100 points higher against righties than lefties, so I hope the Royals try to get their right-handed bats in there and we see Cheslor Cuthbert, but that also comes with the likelihood that Abraham Almonte plays, so it’s hard to say what’s most important. I said get the righties in, but Lucas Duda does have a home run against him, as does Jorge Soler.

Skoglund might be as bad as anyone right now, but the Royals don’t want to him to have to wait until Friday to pitch again given how rusty he was when his start began the other day against Seattle. He did settle down a bit after a rough first two innings against Seattle, which was his first game action after a full 24 days between pitching in game action, so maybe it was a lot of rust for him. Even so, it’s a continued string of horrible starts for him, and hasn’t done anything to change my belief that he isn’t a big leaguer. The Blue Jays aren’t as good as the Angels, but they’re a good team and have enough balance that they can and probably will give him trouble. To get a jump on a good game, it might help if Skoglund can locate his sinker and not hit three batters. It’s to a point with Skoglund that if he can make it four innings and allow less than four runs, I’ll call it a success, and I’m not expecting a success.

Tuesday, Game 2

G IP W L ERA K/9 BB/9
Danny Duffy 3 15.0 0 2 5.40 9.0 4.8
J.A. Happ 3 16.0 2 1 3.94 12.9 2.8

So far, that three year deal for Happ has looked pretty darn good for the Blue Jays, even with him missing time last season. He’s made 60 starts for them in two years plus the three this year and has gone 32-16 with a 3.36 ERA to go along with plenty of strikeouts and not too many walks. He relies very heavily on fastballs, using his 92-93 MPH four-seamer about 41 percent of the time and a 90-91 MPH sinker about 32 percent of the time. He mixes a changeup, slider and split to round out his repertoire, but it’s all about the fastball for him. This year, his sinker has been crushed pretty well, but he’s allowed just one hit on a four-seam fastball this year and has 12 of his 23 strikeouts using it. Like Garcia, he’s significantly better against lefties, so the right-handed bats will have to do the damage in this one. He made two starts against the Royals last year, posting a 1.35 ERA, but going 0-1.

This is another big start for Duffy in determining what the story is with him right now. For the second straight start, he had a horrific first inning with command and then settled in and was mostly in command as the game progressed. What worries me is if his shoulder is still bothering him, that pattern makes a lot of sense as he seems to maybe have some trouble loosening up before finding it and handling the middle innings. If he can just start the way he’s finished, he might be able to pitch into the seventh inning for the first time this season. The Blue Jays don’t have the scary right-handed power they did a couple years ago, but they have hit really well against lefties this season, so this is a real test for Duffy. He’s been hit hard by the Blue Jays in his career with a 5.93 ERA in six appearances, but he was much better in 2015 and 2016 and didn’t face them last year, so the Royals have to hope he can continue his improved pitching against them as the Blue Jays are different than they were and so is Duffy.

Wednesday

G IP W L ERA K/9 BB/9
Ian Kennedy 3 18.0 1 1 1.00 8.0 2.0
Aaron Sanchez 3 19.2 1 1 3.66 6.0 5.0

Sanchez looked like he was going to have a huge 2017 season before blisters pretty much derailed him. He looks to be healthy this year, but an interesting development regarding him is that he started walking a lot of batters last year and hasn’t stopped this year. To go along with it, his strikeout rate has been considerably lower than in his breakout in 2016. Now, the sample is small enough that it could just be noise, but even in his very good 2015, he didn’t strike out many and he spent a lot of the year pitching as a reliever. His sinker is quite good, so that might be why the strikeouts are down a bit, but it’s at least worth noting when thinking about what he’s capable of moving forward. Strike one is a huge key for him. If he falls behind in the count, he’s allowed a .375/.571/.667 line. If he gets ahead, that improves significantly to .179/.233/.286. It hasn’t been that pronounced throughout his career, but there’s still a difference that the Royals need to exploit if they’re going to have success. I have a feeling that this will be one of those two runs on 11 hits type games, though.

Kennedy finally gave up his first home run of the year in his last start, but I’m not sure it counts when Ian Kinsler hits it against the Royals because that’s just tradition. Even if it does count, you can see by the numbers that he’s been absolutely outstanding this season. He’s used his fastball a ton this year, like nearly 70 percent of the time, and it’s been fantastic with opponents hitting just .205 with a .308 slugging percentage in 39 at bats ending on it. It was tough to hit last year, but he allowed a ton of home runs on it, so if he can keep those in check, his strong pitching has a chance to keep up (though obviously not to this level). I would have expected he would have struggled at Rogers Centre in the past, but he’s pitched well the last two years, going 11 innings and allowing four runs on seven hits over two starts. Interestingly enough, he’s never actually faced the Blue Jays anywhere but Toronto. Batter vs. pitcher matchups are what they are, but Curtis Granderson is 6 for 14 with a home run and a double against him, so that’s a matchup to keep an eye on.


At this point, predicting any wins for the Royals in any series seems like a fool’s game, but losing eight in a row is tough (not impossible, though), so I think they squeak through in one. But if the offense doesn’t start to get things going, they’re going to have to rely on a bad bullpen to secure a tight game, and that’s tough to predict.

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