Massive. Enormous. Gargantuan. Gigantic.
Use any adjective you want, but whatever you choose will probably underestimate the importance of this weekend’s four-game series in Yankee Stadium. For the first time in 20+ years the Toronto Blue Jays are playing meaningful baseball in September, and this weekend represents their stiffest test yet.
Though the players and managers of both teams are doing their best to downplay the series to the media (“it’s just another game”, “there are still 19 games left after this”, “all games are important”) there’s no denying that there is a little something extra at stake. Last night’s rain out has only added to the anticipation and intensity.
Obviously the series itself and its impact on the postseason race is the most important storyline, but there are many other things to talk about. Here are a few:
There’s no need to downplay it or sugar coat it: this is the most important series the Toronto Blue Jays have played since 1993. A four game series in Yankee Stadium against the team that trails them by only a game-and-a-half in the standings. Try to convince yourself that a game is a game, and there is still a lot of baseball to be played, but good luck believing it. It is quite simply a huge moment for the franchise.
Anything less than a split will see the Yankees leapfrog the Jays into first place. A split leaves the two teams exactly where they are but does the Jays a favour by taking four games off the schedule. A series sweep by either team? Well, that will deliver massive repercussions. Aside from giving one team a huge momentum boost and crushing the spirit of the other, it will open up a gap in the standings. A Yankee sweep would put them 2.5 games ahead, and with a slightly easier finishing schedule, they would have the advantage down the stretch. A Blue Jay sweep would put them 5.5 games ahead, with only 19 games remaining (20 for New York). A lead of that size means that the Jays could finish the season 10-9 and New York would have to go 15-5 to tie them for first. That would be huge.
David Price vs. New York
David Price was acquired to be Toronto’s ace, and he has not disappointed. However, if there is one chink in his armor it is his record against the Yankees. For his career he is 11-7, but the 4.21 ERA against New York is his worst against any other team except Texas (with at least 20 IP). This season he was absolutely crushed by the Yanks in April (10 hits, 3 walks, 8 runs in only 2.1 innings) as a member of the Tigers, and struggled against them in his last start as he allowed 11 hits in 7.1 IP. He did, however, pitch very well in Yankee Stadium in his second start as a Jay in a 6-0 Toronto win. If they Jays are to get off to a great start in the series, Price has to deliver.
He was supposed to miss the entire season. His injury was supposed to be a devastating blow to the team and the city. Instead, Marcus Stroman returns tomorrow afternoon, just under six months after blowing out his knee to pitch for the first place Blue Jays. Who’d of thunk it? His return comes at a crucial time. Obviously the series is huge, but he returns to the mound at a time when the back-end of Toronto’s rotation is starting to crumble. Mark Buehrle has pitched extremely well all year, but is showing signs of slowing down. In his past four starts he has allowed 28 hits and 15 ER in 19.1 IP, for a 6.98 ERA. Batters are hitting .364 against him with a huge .971 OPS. He recently received a cortisone shot to try to help get him through the rest of the year. Drew Hutchison, on the other hand, has been pretty poor all year long. Despite a nice stretch in August, Hutch has gone 0-2 with a 12.96 ERA and 1.300 OPS against in two September starts. One of those was at home, where he had previously been untouchable. With 23 games left, Toronto can’t afford to throw games away, and they also can’t afford to lean too heavily on Price / Estrada / Dickey. Stroman’s return is absolutely enormous.
The Effin’ Yankees
Losing to the Yankees is always bad. As a bitter division rival Jays fans like nothing more than seeing them fail. But in the late ’90’s into the mid-2000’s losing to them was understandable. They were loaded with stars in their prime, guys like Jeter, Williams, A-Rod, Teixeira, Rivera, Posada, Pettitte, Clemens, you name it. They were a super team that put up video game numbers. But these Yankees are not those Yankees. Only one of their top-9 batters is under 30, and three of their top players are over 35 (A-Rod, Tex, Beltran). They have a guy named Greg Bird. In the rotation they have a pine-tar loving cheater (Pineda), an old man with a wonky knee who is hurt (Sabathia), a star pitching with half an elbow (Tanaka), and a guy recovering from Tommy John surgery who is struggling (Nova). Their bullpen is loaded with no-name guys like Chasen Shreve, Justin Wilson, Nick Rumbelow, Branden Pinder, and Caleb Cotham. Yet somehow, against all odds, they keep winning. All of which, of course, makes us hate them even more. In a year where many predicted a last place finish, the Bronx Bombers continue to prove that you can’t count them out. Hopefully the Jays can prevent another obscure Yankee hero from emerging this weekend.