Series Preview: Blue Jays @ Yankees

Heading into this series, the Blue Jays are currently sitting in the first Wild Card spot, while the 60-57 Yankees sit only 3.5 games behind the Red Sox for the second Wild Card spot. Despite being sellers at the deadline, the Yanks have been 8-5 in the month of August thus far without their previously top hitter Carlos Beltran and top relievers Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller. Their transition to youth has provided new excitement in the Bronx. In nine meetings this season between these two, the Blue Jays have dominated to a record of 7-2, winning all three series.

Game One (Monday, August 15 at 7:05 PM ET)
Chad Green (1-2, 4.94 ERA) vs. R.A. Dickey (8-12, 4.61 ERA)
Other than a very good outing against San Diego in early July where he allowed just one run in six innings, Green has struggled to find any sort of rhythm. He, like Luis Severino, has had great trouble in the rotation, but has thrived when coming out of the bullpen. In the three other outings, he’s allowed 14 runs in 12 innings, an ERA of 10.50. Not only has he allowed a high amount of runs, but in those three bad outings he couldn’t get out of the fifth inning. With a new, rejuvenated roster, the youngster could potentially contend for a rotation spot in 2017 if he ends this season well. As a reliever, hitters are batting .194 against Green, as he’s pitched 9.1 scoreless innings.

Despite the unimpressive numbers for the season, Dickey’s knuckleball, along with other pitchers of his type, have always given the Yankees offense problems. This season though, his lone start against New York in May, was a loss in which he allowed four runs. He has been even worse since the All Star break, sporting a 7.62 ERA in five starts, four of them allowing four or more runs. Against a young, unproven pitcher, look for Dickey’s knuckleball to give him the advantage over Green.

Game Two (Tuesday, August 16 at 7:05 PM ET)
Michael Pineda (6-10, 5.07 ERA) vs. Marco Estrada (7-5, 2.95 ERA)
Pineda’s concern used to always be his ongoing health issues, as he was very good in his early career when on the field. Just two seasons ago, in 13 starts with the Yankees, he pitched to a 1.89 ERA and only allowed seven walks, something he has struggled with since that season. Injuries have not slowed him down this season, as his inconsistencies have come to define him. Once acquired from the Mariners for highly touted prospect Jesus Montero, his 152 strikeouts that rank fifth in the AL shows you the kind of stuff he has. In his age 27 season, he has below average 1.36 WHIP and his ERA has risen considerably in each of his four seasons. One thing you can expect from him though is giving the Yanks solid distance, as he's pitched at least six innings in each of his last five starts. In his lone start against Toronto this year, he went six innings and allowed just two runs, but he picked up the loss.
Photo Credit: Brad Penner | USA TODAY Sports
In the early part of his career, Estrada struggled to be anything more than a serviceable starter with the Nationals and Brewers. Since arriving in Toronto, he's taken the next step forward and has become a vital part of their rotation. His 2.95 ERA ranks fifth in the AL this season, coming off a 3.13 ERA in the 2015 season. He’s made two starts against the Yanks this season, both within a week of each other back in May. He picked up the win in both outings, as he pitched a combined 15 innings, allowing just three runs (1.80 ERA). For the year, opponents are hitting an insane .186 against him, as he’s allowed just 87 hits in 128.1 innings, which is the best in the American League, and trails only Clayton Kershaw for the best BAA who holds opposing hitters to a .185 average against him.

Game Three (Wednesday, August 17 at 7:05 PM ET)
C.C. Sabathia (7-9, 4.20 ERA) vs. J.A. Happ (16-3, 2.96 ERA)
These numbers aren't what you'd expect from C.C. Sabathia, but for a 36 year old, they aren't bad, especially coming off the horrendous season he had in 2015. Once one of the better pitchers in the game, those days are now long gone. He still provides a decent back-of-the-rotation presence for the Yanks though. After a start to the season that saw his ERA get down to 2.25, he's been 2-5 in his last ten starts with a 6.41 ERA. He's allowed three or more runs in nine of those starts, as he's had just two quality starts in that span. Look for him to once again struggle against a very good Toronto offense.

Quietly having a spectacular season, the veteran lefty has dominated as of late. His performance against the lowly Rays last week gave him an MLB-leading 16 wins, which a lot of times can be misleading, but he has certainly deserved those wins. Since the start of July, a total of seven outings, he's allowed just six runs in 43.1 IP, good for a tremendous 1.25 ERA. In those 43.1 IP, he's allowed only 28 hits with an alarming 55 strikeouts. ESPN’s Cy Young predictor currently as him winning the AL Cy Young award, the most prestigious pitching award. His dominance lately has been crucial in the Blue Jays pulling ahead in the Wild Card race.

Players to watch for the Yankees:
1. The youngsters
What a time for Yankee fans. As the season comes closer and closer to an end, New York fans are getting to see a glimpse of the future down the stretch. Gary Sanchez is starting on a regular basis at catcher now and has done well. He’s hit for power, average, and shown off his brilliant arm behind the plate. Aaron Judge and Tyler Austin finally made their big league debuts, homering back-to-back in their first career at-bats. Judge homered yet again in Sunday’s game, showing off his massive frame in right field. Judge is 3-7 through two starts, while Austin is 3-8 at the plate. Austin’s versatility will play a major role on next season’s team and Judge is here to stay, as well, in right field.
Photo Credit: Ray Stubblebine 
2. Adam Warren
After a frustrating campaign with the Cubs, Warren has really found a rhythm once again in his second stint with the Yanks. In ten innings, he has not allowed a run, while allowing just four hits and adding nine strikeouts. Him and Tyler Clippard (1.50 ERA with NYY), along with Dellin Betances, have once again formed a very good trio at the back end of the Yankees bullpen. He gives Joe Girardi flexibility, as he’s able to also pitch multiple innings. His success has helped make up for the losses of lefties Miller and Chapman.

3. Aaron Hicks
One of the worst players on the team this season, Hicks has continued getting playing time from Joe Girardi. If he picks up a rhythm in these past few months, he could play a big role on next year's team. Heading into the series, he’s six for his last 14 with two homers and even batted second in Sunday’s finale. His average is barely above the Mendoza line and he has frustrated Yankee fans with his defense this season, but if he lives up to his potential, this guy will be a steal from the trade with the Twins.

Players to watch for the Blue Jays:
1. Edwin Encarnacion
Despite putting up monster numbers yet again, Encarnacion’s name is many times left out when discussing the best hitters in baseball. He knocks in runs at a tremendous rate, while still possessing a solid batting average for a power hitter. Yankee pitchers have done a good job in their nine games against him this year, as he's 9-33 (.273) without a homer. For the season, his 32 homers rank second in the majors and he ranks first in RBIs with 95. Now mostly a full-time DH, Encarnacion has been able to solely focus on hitting and has torn up pitchers all season. His first half was rewarded by making the All-Star team. The Yankees pitchers must slow him down if they want to have any success against this offense.

2. Devon Travis
Speaking of players who don't get enough recognition, this guy has torn up major league pitching since arriving. After having his season cut short in 2015, he’s picked up right where he left off. In 252 ABs (63 games), he’s hitting .302 with 10 homers and 34 RBIs. He has now played 125 games for his young career, batting .303 with 18 homers. His 2.8 WAR shows how valuable he is to Toronto at second base. He has a great blend of decent speed and power, along with good defense and hitting for average. He’s 4-13 on the year against New York.

3. Michael Saunders
This guy struggled through the early part of his career with the Mariners, but finally got a full opportunity this year with the Blue Jays. He has been the unsung hero of this team in left field and made the All-Star team via the final vote. He ranks second on the team in average and third in homers, OBP, SLG, and OPS. His underrated power has created yet another option for what was an already dominant offense. Behind Encarnacion and Donaldson, the 2016 All-Star has been the Jays’ best hitter, outperforming big name players such as Troy Tulowitzki, Jose Bautista, and Russell Martin. He will look to turn around his August struggles in this series though, as he's just 6-39 to start the month.

Keys to victory for the Yankees:
1. Limit the home run ball
The Blue Jays have been known for the home run ball throughout their past few seasons and they've hurt the Yankees pitching staff in that department. With sluggers Encarnacion, Donaldson, Bautista (currently injured), Tulowitzki, Saunders, and others, this lineup has a plethora of guys who can go deep at any time. If you negate the home run ball against this offense, they're most certainly less potent. The Yankees have limited them to just five homers in nine games, three of those happening in one game. The Blue Jays rank second in baseball in homers and sixth in runs scored. With power from top to bottom, the Yankees starters and bullpen must limit the long ball in this series.

2. Score early
This has always been the key to the Yankees offense. When the top of the lineup is clicking (Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury), this offense thrives greatly. After tearing up opponents in the first inning last season, they rank just 29th in all of baseball this year, as they average 0.35 first inning runs per game. Their 0.77 runs in the first inning per game led the majors in 2015. This has been the biggest difference between last year and this year’s Yankee teams, as they haven’t been able to manufacture runs early on. If they fall behind against this team, they will have problems all series, as the Blue Jays pitching staff is tied for first in the majors in quality starts this season.
Photo Credit: Anthony Grupposo | USA TODAY Sports
3. Continue to play the young players
As highlighted before, ever since the trade deadline that saw the Yanks deal some of their top players, they have been playing a lot of their young players such as Rob Refsnyder and Luis Severino (before their demotions), Sanchez, and now the duo of Austin and Judge. Even if they don't make the playoffs this season, getting them experience the next few months will be crucial for their respective futures. Along with gaining experience, they have all played relatively good baseball for how young they are. The future is bright in the Bronx and look for this core to be around for a long time.

Although the Bronx Bombers have been playing good baseball as of late, the Blue Jays offense/pitching staff combo is quite scary. The Blue Jays have two of the top starters in the AL going in this series, along with a pitcher the Yankees have historically struggled with. Add that to the Yankees not having Masahiro Tanaka or Nathan Eovaldi going in this series and the Jays also having one of the better offenses in all of baseball, I think it'll be very hard for the Yanks to win this series, let alone a game.

Article by: Spencer Schultz
Follow me on Twitter @SpenceSchultz63
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