Last week’s series with the Blue Jays took on a fair bit of significance. The Yankees entered a half-game back of Toronto for second-place in the AL East. The teams’ fortunes have diverged since. The Yankees swept Toronto and took two of three from Boston, while the Jays were swept by New York and dropped three of four to the Phillies.
Pitching has failed Toronto during their downturn, unsurprisingly, as that side of the ball has been the team’s weakness throughout the season. They’ve given up at least seven runs in six of their last ten games, including those three memorable games against the Yankees in which the Bombers racked up 19 home runs. The Blue Jays’ staff ranks 18th in baseball with a 4.75 ERA and 23rd with a 4.96 FIP.
With Toronto in a bit of a slide, the Yankees have every chance to keep their red-hot streak rolling into the playoffs. Let’s take a look at the matchups:
Monday: TBD vs. Matt Shoemaker
The Yankees are pushing back Gerrit Cole and Masahiro Tanaka a day, perhaps to better line up the rotation for the postseason and to get their starters rested. That leaves them without a starter lined up for tonight, though Aaron Boone said that Michael King will probably shoulder the load. King has been the Yankees’ go-to man when the team has needed just a few innings, whether at the start or end of a game, though he’s struggled with the role. King has allowed 18 runs in 25 innings this year, with 20 strikeouts against 10 walks.
Toronto will tab Shoemaker, who hasn’t pitched in exactly a month. The right-hander is returning after a bout inflammation in his shoulder. Shoemaker has been uneven in 2020, turning in a couple strong starts as well as a couple clunkers en route to a 90 ERA+ in 25.2 innings. The 33-year-old possesses a deep repertoire that includes a pair of fastballs, a slider, and a splitter. Despite missing huge chunks of time with injury over the past several years, Shoemaker is actually throwing harder than ever now, sitting at about 92 mph on his heaters.
Tuesday: Gerrit Cole vs. Tanner Roark
Any buzz that the Yankees weren’t getting what they paid for from their $324-million man has mostly subsided after a pair of dominant outings, his most recent a seven-inning, one-run start against Toronto. While Cole perhaps hasn’t reached heights of his mind-boggling 2019, his numbers on the year (6-3, 144 ERA+ in 66 innings) are stellar. He is an ace’s ace.
Roark started opposite Cole last week, and the Yankees roughed him up, as they roughed up everyone Toronto tossed out. The right-hander has a 69 ERA+ on the season, and a 7.71 FIP in 39.1 innings. There’s no reason the Yankees shouldn’t have another strong offensive performance here against Roark.
Wednesday: Masahiro Tanaka vs. Chase Anderson
Tanaka seems to have cemented himself as the Yankees’ game two starter, as he’s clicked along with the rest of the team over the past couple weeks. Scanning through Tanaka’s game log, he’s only had one truly poor outing, a six-run, four-inning affair in August against the Rays. Tanaka has given the Yankees a chance to win in all eight of his other starts. He owns a 132 ERA+ in 44 innings, with a 39 strikeouts against just five walks.
The Blue Jays used a bullpen game against Tanaka last week, and they may do something similar this week, though Chase Anderson is tabbed to start. The Yankees memorably battered Anderson for five home runs, and he’s lasted just 2.2 innings in his last two appearances. If Anderson isn’t long for the game, Toronto also has the likes of former Yankee reliever A.J. Cole, Ryan Borucki, Julian Merryweather and Wilmer Font in the bullpen.
Thursday: J.A. Happ vs. Robbie Ray
Happ lines up to throw Thursday, and with the way he’s pitching, there’s a good chance he’s the Yankees’ choice to go in a potential game three of a Wild Card series. Happ has turned in a very fine season, consistently keeping the Yankees in games after a rough start, and maintaining a 133 ERA+ in 44.1 innings. If he gets a playoff start next month, he’ll have earned it.
The Blue Jays haven’t announced official starters, but it looks like trade acquisiton Robbie Ray will go here. The left-hander has had a brutal year, running a 64 ERA+ in 49.2 innings. Still, the Blue Jays’ strategy to acquire Ray, Ross Stripling, and Taijuan Walker at the deadline appears salient in retrospect, given the lack of off-days in this year’s playoffs will test team’s depth.
They still would like Ray to get out of his funk, however. He’s yielded a dozen runs in 16.2 innings since coming over from Arizona. Ray’s talent tantalizes at times, and he still unfurls a high-spin fastball that sits at 94 mph. That’s about all he does well, though, and the Yankees’ righty-heavy lineup should be licking their chops if Ray toes the mound come Thursday.