It’s no exaggeration to say that the Toronto Blue Jays’ three-game set with the New York Yankees starting Tuesday is one of the biggest regular-season series in franchise history.
In the history of the Blue Jays’ 45 seasons, they’ve only made the playoffs eight times, and in the 37 instances they missed the game, they’ve rarely been close enough to have their fate decided in the last few. days. In 1987, a final series with the Detroit Tigers determined if they were playing baseball in October (they got swept up and ended up outside watching), but other than that, duds were rarely avoided by accuracy, and the very end of the season has rarely been final.
This time around it’s on the edge, even though there are enough complicating factors that the fate of the team isn’t known for sure until the final days of the campaign. What we do know is that a sweep against the Yankees puts the Blue Jays in a great position, a series win puts them in uncertain territory, a 1-2 gives them hope for a miracle, and three losses close the book. on a one-season roller coaster.
We also know, for the most part, some of the players most likely to determine the outcome of these crucial competitions. On the mound, the Blue Jays deploy ace 2020 Hyun-Jin Ryu, acquisition limits José Berríos and Cy Young candidate Robbie Ray. The games, if they are even from a distance, will end with a combination of Jordan Romano and Tim Mayza. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. will likely have something to say about the outcome, as will the other guy with an MVP-caliber season: Marcus Semien.
However, top-to-bottom contributions to the roster will be needed if the Blue Jays are to grab a wildcard spot. It will take more than the club’s biggest stars to topple the Yankees, but luckily for Toronto there are a few players with “unlikely hero” potential. Here are some Blue Jays X-Factors for a series with huge stakes:
Alejandro Kirk C/DH
While Kirk has calmed down lately, he’s wielding precisely the kind of bat the Blue Jays need against the Yankees. Unlike the rest of his body, the 22-year-old’s hands are blazingly fast, which has helped him catch high-speed fastballs that other hitters miss. This is especially handy against the Yankees as not only do they have Gerrit Cole starting on Wednesday, but the top four pitchers in their field (Aroldis Chapman, Chad Green, Clay Holmes and Luis Severino) are all averaging over 95 mph. on their radiators.
On terrains over 95 mph Kirk has hit an excellent .289 in his career and hit .500. He even hit a home run on a 99mph fastball from Cole himself earlier in September:
The young catcher is also looming up to hit the Yankees’ other two starters, as well as Jameson Taillon and Corey Kluber’s missing best shots are curved balls, which Kirk hit .421 and hit .842 without scratching. The sample size is woefully small there (72 locations), but this is the type of mini on-board manager Charlie Montoyo might consider when he completes his lineup.
In this series, the bigger question for Kirk will be how much playing time he will spend, as Lourdes Gurriel Jr. could absorb DH’s bats returning from his hand injury, and Kirk might not trust anyone from other than Robbie Ray on the defensive. mound.
The two most notable things about the Yankees’ lineup are that they are skewed to the right and don’t lack top-to-bottom power. The two most notable things about Cimber are that he neutralizes right-handed hitters and keeps the ball in the park.
Of the 255 pitchers who have logged at least 60 innings this season, Cimber’s 0.13 HR / 9 is the lowest and the second lowest score (Emmanuel Clase’s 0.27) is more than twice as much. high. Even looking at Cimber’s entire career, the 0.57 HR / 9 he has managed since making his MLB debut in 2018 is the lowest in the major leagues, this time among 226 pitchers with at least 200 innings under their belt.
When you combine that with the skinny .253 / .296 / .341 he’s held right-handed in his career (with an even more toothless .258 / .301 / .307 in 2021), Cimber is the perfect guy to limit the damage when runners are on base – or throw to the dreaded Aaron Judge-Giancarlo Stanton duo.
The Blue Jays have achieved far more than they bargained for with Espinal in 2021 on both sides of the ball. The infielder’s most obvious contribution has been his elite defense at third base, which has been a problem for Toronto whenever he’s not in the game – both by measurements at l ‘naked eye and defensive:
To go along with his stellar glove, Espinal wielded a surprisingly productive bat in 2021. While the .291 / .354 / .379 line the 26-year-old has put in may have a touch of luck, it’s impossible to come across. arguing with an OBP .354 who ranks second on the team – just behind Guerrero Jr. For much of the season, the bottom of the Blue Jays roster struggled to climb to the top, but Espinal has helped reverse this trend when healthy.
With leading man George Springer appearing to be heating up, shots from the bottom of the order could be especially valuable in this series, and Espinal is a good candidate to produce them.
When Pearson returned to the Blue Jays pen on September 3, he was expected to quickly become a weapon of confidence based on his elite skills. While his fastball could still hit three digits, and his cursor had an unpleasant movement both vertically and horizontally, that wasn’t exactly the case. In 8.2 innings, Pearson’s 4.15 ERA, 4.55 FIP and 4.15 BB / 9 have not inspired confidence, and he has yet to join Montoyo’s circle of confidence.
Still, the great right-hander has been better lately (allowing only one point in his last five outings) and has consistently missed the sticks since returning to the Blue Jays (13.50 K / 9 ). At some point, the team may need to use a reliever outside the quartet Romano, Mayza, Cimber and Trevor Richards – especially if Ryu can’t find his bearings on Tuesday after two back-to-back brutal starts.
Pearson can provide length in case one of the starters struggles, his elite speed would make the Yankees look different, and like Cimber, his fastball / slider combo plays best against righties. In fact, the 72 right-hangers who faced Pearson in his young MLB career produced a pitiful .172 / .270 / .313. Montoyo might not be in a rush to use the youngster given that his high-leverage squad is well established, but he may have to – and he might be pleasantly surprised at the results.
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