As the MLB season enters the final week of July the contenders are starting to separate themselves from the pretenders. In the AL East, it seems apparent that a three team dogfight is emerging between the Jays, Orioles, and Red Sox. I took a look at how the Jays schedule has compared to the Orioles thus far a few weeks back, and today I will do the same with Boston.
The Boston Red Sox are a very good baseball team (sadly). There is no denying that. They have also been ahead of the Blue Jays virtually the entire season. But are they really better than Toronto?
Offensively, a case can be made that they are. They lead the majors with 529 runs scored and an .836 team OPS, compared to Toronto’s 478 runs and .773 OPS. The Jays have out-homered Boston (137-118), but Boston has hit .289 with runners in scoring position compared to Toronto’s .258. Advantage Red Sox.
But let’s not forget that the Blue Jays got off to an atrocious start this season. Let’s re-evaluate those numbers from June onward:
Suddenly it’s the Jays offense that seems more fearsome.
On the pitching side of the ball it has been all Jays:
Other than bullpen ERA, Toronto trumps Boston everywhere.
So why are the Jays behind the Red Sox in the standings? Sure some of it is due to Toronto’s inconsistent and stuttering start. But a lot of it can also be blamed on the schedules the two teams have played.
Including the series being played this weekend (Toronto against Seattle, Boston against Minnesota) both teams have played 31 series in 2016. In series played against opponents who were in first place at the time, Toronto sports a .533 winning percentage compared to Boston’s .526. Against opponents who were in last place in their divisions at the time Toronto’s win % is .833 and Boston’s is .643.
The major difference?
The Blue Jays have only played six games (over two series) against last place teams. That’s it – a four game set against the Twins in May, and the recently completed two game stop in Arizona. The Red Sox, on the other hand, have played a whopping 28 games against last place teams (over 10 series). That difference is staggering. (For reference, the Jays have played 30 games against division leaders. Boston? Only 19.)
To go one step further, you can look at the quality of the opposing pitchers faced. The top-10 pitchers in terms of WAR in the AL (excluding Aaron Sanchez who, obviously, can’t pitch against Toronto) are:
Chris Tillman, Danny Salazar, Michael Fulmer, Carlos Carrasco, Cole Hamels, Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, Corey Kluber, Colby Lewis, Rich Hill, Masahiro Tanaka
The Blue Jays have faced that group 13 times, compared to only 10 times for Boston. In terms of interleague play, while both teams had to face Madison Bumgarner, the Jays also had to oppose Clayton Kershaw. Kershaw will more than likely still be on the DL when the Red Sox head to LA in two weeks.
Is this simply sour grapes? An exercise of a whiny Jays fan?
– not really, and here’s why:
This should give Jays fans a good feeling. They have faced a much more difficult schedule and survived a bad start to sit only a game and a half back.
Want more reason for hope?
41 of Boston’s final 69 games (just under 60%) will be played
on the road. The Red Sox are barely above .500 on the road at 21-19 (and 7 – 9 since June 1st).
47 of Toronto’s final 66 games (51.5%) will be played at home where the Jays are 27 – 20 (but 14 – 6 since June 1st).
Of course there are several other factors that will come into play. Boston is now without its two best relievers (Kimbrel and Uehara), and their newest prize (Pomeranz) was rocked in his first start. Toronto will get Bautista back soon, but still must answer the Sanchez question and hope that Estrada’s back holds up. And obviously, there are still nine days until the deadline.
But boil it all down and the Jays are in a good spot.
Just keep winning.