Jays Journal Series Preview: April 15-18 vs. Boston Red Sox

After the Jays unfortunately dropped 2 of 3 to the Mariners, they’re definitely looking forward to leaving the West Coast and fly across the country to face the Red Sox for a 4 game set at Fenway.

Joining me for the series preview is Derek Stykalo, Staff Writer on FanSided’s great Red Sox site BoSox Injection and he’ll be adding everything on the Red Sox after the jump. Here’s everything you need to know:

Toronto Blue Jays

2011 Regular Season Record: 6-6, 3rd in A.L. East (1.5 GB)

Boston Red Sox

2011 Regular Season Record: 2-9, 5th in A.L. East (5.0 GB)

Pitching Matchups

April 15: Brett Cecil vs. Clay Buchholz

Jared: Cecil is coming off a start in Anaheim where he lasted 5 innings, allowed 10 hits, and only struck out 3. His 7.20 ERA (5.38 FIP) on the season is worst among Jays starters, and he’s allowed 16 hits in 10 innings between his 2 starts. Cecil will be looking to regain some of the velocity that escaped him back in Spring Training and get back on track against Boston, seeing as just last season he led the Jays with 15 wins and managed a tidy 4.22 ERA in 172.2 innings. In 5 starts against the Red Sox, Cecil has gone 2-3 with a 6.51 ERA – his worst among any AL East team – a 1.771 WHIP and 4.6 K/9.

Derek: With a new 4 year contract extension behind him, Buchholz can now focus on baseball and pitching every fifth day.  He’s struggled a little in his first two starts, going 0-2 with an ERA of 7.38.  Perhaps the contract negotiations were a distraction for Buck, and now going forward we’ll find out if he can regain his dominating form that saw the 26 year old win 17 games last season.  His command has been lacking this season, leaving too much over the plate and both the Rangers and Indians made him pay.  Against a potent Jays lineup he’ll have to be sharp and paint the outside corners in order to have success.

April 16: Jo-Jo Reyes vs. Josh Beckett

J: In what seemed like a completely lopsided pitching matchup against the Angels’ Jered Weaver, Reyes brilliantly rebounded from his shaky first start of the season against the A’s in Toronto. He pitched 7 strong innings in Anaheim, allowing 6 hits and 1 earned run, while walking just 1. What was more impressive about the outing was that it was in a game where it was crucial to avoid having to use the bullpen as much as possible, as it had been exhausted in the Jays’ 14-inning loss the night before. Reyes has never faced the Red Sox in his career.

D: After his last start, Beckett has found renewed faith from all Sox fans.  Against the Yankees he was simply brilliant, going 8 innings, giving up only 2 hits while fanning 10.  It was the Beckett of old and at least for now everyone is taking a sigh of relief.  But Red Sox fans are still not completely sold that Beckett has found his old form that helped him win the 2007 World Series MVP.  It’ll take another quality start to put any doubters at ease.

April 17: Jesse Litsch vs. Jon Lester

J: In the Jays most heartbreaking loss of the season where the bullpen allowed 8 runs, Litsch did his part by not allowing any runs in 5 innings. While he only allowed 5 hits, Litsch did issue 4 walks and was pulled from the game due to the fact he had already reached 111 pitches by the end of the fifth. Litsch will look to get back on track and go deeper into the game against Red Sox Opening Day starter Jon Lester, and will be the lone right-hander the Red Sox will see in the series. In 7 career starts against the Red Sox, Litsch is 4-2 with a 3.83 ERA, 31 hits, and 12 walks in 35.1 innings.

D: In 3 starts this season, Lester is still looking for his first win, 0-1.  It’s not that he’s pitched poorly, in fact his last two starts, Lester was dominating, aside from one inning against Tampa Bay that cost him the win.  The lack of offense when Lester’s on the mound has led to his winless start, and he’ll have to continue his strikeout production to top Jesse Litsch on Sunday.  Lester has struck out 17 batters in his last 14 innings of work.

April 18: Ricky Romero vs. Daisuke Matsuzaka

J: Romero did just about all he could do in his last start against the Mariners, pitching an 8 inning complete game – the fourth of his career – while allowing just 2 earned runs and striking out 8. He trimmed his team-leading ERA down to 1.66 (2.39 FIP), as he hasn’t allowed more than 2 earned runs in any start this season. The hard luck loss snapped his personal 5 game road winning streak, but Romero will look to repeat his efforts against the Red Sox and Matsuzaka, where a win is a realistic possibility. Romero hasn’t exactly had the best luck against the Red Sox in 9 career starts, going 2-4 with a 7.42 ERA, 2.038 WHIP, and 27 walks, his most walks against any opponent.

J: Matsuzaka was lit up in his last start to the tune of 7 runs in just 2 innings of work, and he hasn’t looked like the same pitcher that the Red Sox signed out of Japan 4 years ago. Since the start of the 2009 season, Matsuzaka has limped to a 5.24 ERA, so it’s no wonder that manager Terry Francona has publicly stated there’s “a sense of urgency” to get Dice-K back on track. If there’s a silver lining for Red Sox fans, it’s that Dice-K has had Toronto’s number in 11 career starts against them, going 6-1 with a 3.80 ERA, 1.127 WHIP , and 8.9 K/9 in 71 innings.

Who’s Hot

Blue Jays: Corey Patterson

J: Patterson has only played 3 games with the Jays, but has managed 2 hits in each of them, including 1 home run with 4 RBIs. A career .254 hitter, it’s unlikely he’ll continue to hit like this for an extended period of time, but it will be interesting nonetheless to see how Patterson fills in for Rajai Davis, who is on the 15-day DL.

Red Sox: Dustin Pedroia

D: After a nice series against New York where Pedroia picked up 3 hits in every game, he managed to collect a double against Tampa and raise his batting average to .368, with 5 RBI’s on the season.  He has singly handedly lifted this offense up in the past few games, leading by example on the field.  Over the past five games, Pedroia is batting .526 with an OBP of .789.

Who’s Cold

Blue Jays: Aaron Hill

J: Giving Juan Rivera a break from this section, another Jay who is ice cold is Aaron Hill. After hitting just .165/.222/.352 in his final 26 games last season, Hill has continued to underachieve at the plate so far in 2011. In 11 games this season, Hill has managed a stellar .170/.180/.213 slash line (.393 OPS) with just 2 extra base hits, and one walk. No, that’s not a typo at all, Hill has a .393 OPS this season. With the Jays recently turning down his 2014 club option and holding the power on his 2012-2013 options, Hill will have to turn things around as we get deeper into the season in order to ensure he has a job with the Jays next year.

Red Sox: Jarrod Saltalamacchia

D: While he’s not alone, I’ve selected Jarrod Saltalamacchia.  He’s batting .154 thanks to only 4 hits in 26 at bats.  He’s struck out 11 times and have left many wondering if he’s capable of producing the kind of offense that Theo Epstein saw in him when he decided to bring him to Boston.  Some are calling for 39 year old captain, Jason Varitek to get more playing time given Salty’s struggles.

Blue Jays:

15-day DL: RP Frank Francisco (right pectoral tightness and right biceps inflammation), SP Brandon Morrow (right elbow inflammation), OF Scott Podsednik (plantar fasciitis in left foot), CF Rajai Davis (aggravated right ankle sprain)

60-day DL: RP Jesse Carlson (left shoulder), RP Dustin McGowan (right rotator cuff)

Red Sox:

15-day DL: Matt Albers (right latissimus strain)

60-day DL: Junichi Tazawa (torn ulnar collateral ligament)

Jared: Obviously the media is eating up the fact the Sox have started the year 2-9, especially after adding 2 high-profile players during the offseason. Jays fans know how the media is reacting to the slow start, but what are the feelings among the fan base overall? Are some pessimistic now, especially if the losses continue, or is there widespread optimism that the team will rebound?

Derek: There are mixed reactions within Red Sox Nation to the tough start, with some pushing the panic button.  Overall though, I’d say most are confident that this high profiled team will bounce back and get it going.  The offense has been very slow, not capitalizing when there are runners in scoring position and the positive is that mostly everyone is struggling in the lineup, not just 1 or 2 guys. So when they all get it going, it should be fun to watch.  The starting pitching appears to be rebounding aside from John Lackey and Dice-K.  The fan base has pretty much given up on Dice-K, while it appears Lackey doesn’t have a lot of room for error either.

J: Speaking of the 2 high-profile offseason additions, Gonzalez looks pretty much as advertised, whereas Crawford not so much. When does it get to a point that the team (and fans) will start to get concerned, if they’re not already?

D: I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t some concern over Crawford.  There’s been a lot of questions around his high priced contract and whether he’s worth $20 million plus, per season. After leaving Tampa and coming to Boston where the media is relentless, there appears to be an adjustment period that Crawford is still trying to sort through. The other problem is he’s been moved around the batting lineup, hitting leadoff, second and as low as seventh.  When he played with the Rays it was evident he was most comfortable in the number two spot and is very much a guy who likes his routine. Sox fans have seem him terrorize us when he played in Tampa, so it’s nice to have him on our side, even though he’s struggling.  If his struggles continue well into May, then fans may be crying for him to be on the first duck boat out of Boston.

J: With Jed Lowrie looking good out of the gate and Scutaro struggling, do you see Lowrie taking Scutaro’s place by the end of the season? With Iglesias in the minors and the Brewers wanting shortstop depth in their “go for it all” season right now, could you see the Sox deeming Scutaro expendable and possibly trading him?

D: All through Spring Training this was a constant topic for debate.  Red Sox manager Terry Francona has said all along that Scutaro is his guy and he will get Lowrie into games when he can.  Given the struggles of Scutaro and the nice batting touch Lowrie’s been displaying, batting .438, this debate has once again surfaced.  Sox fans want Lowrie in the games, especially after the fine performances he gave against Tampa this week.  Francona hasn’t tipped his hand as to whether Lowrie will start at short on Friday.  With Scutaro on the last year of his contract, and if he struggles into late June then I could see the Red Sox trading him, providing two things line up; the first is if Jed Lowrie continues to hit well and play spotless defense, which he usually does.

The second is if Iglesias continues to grow and improve with his offensive abilities.  It’s no secret that he is fully capable of playing in the Majors with his defense; it’s his offense that needs work which is why they sent him to Pawtucket. A Red Sox Brewers trade is a possibility and if Iglesias isn’t ready to come up to the Majors, the Red Sox would be looking for a roster player who could serve as a utility man in the infield.

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Derek: Much was made in the media when the Jays management let John Buck walk as a free agent, trade Mike Napoli shortly after acquiring him and decide to go with youngster J.P Arencibia doing most of the catching.  How has the talented rookie handled the majority of the workload behind the plate?

Jared: With Arencibia having proved there was nothing left for him to accomplish in the minor leagues – to the tune of hitting .301/.359/.626 in 104 games at Triple-A Las Vegas last season – the Jays felt that the only way that they were going to find out what they have in Arencibia was to have him be an everyday player in the Majors and get thrown into the fire, so to speak. With perhaps the best backup catcher and catching mentor in the game, Jose Molina, already under contract, the Jays had no problems trading away Napoli (though I would have loved to keep his bat…) and receiving a draft pick for letting Buck walk via free agency to the Marlins.

So far, virtually all of the reviews on Arencibia have been positive. He drew a lot of criticism during spring training for his performance at the plate, but has done a good job of silencing his critics by letting his bat and actions do the talking at the Major League level. Even though it’s a small sample size, Arencibia has hit .323/.400/.710 in 8 games so far, and even the balls that haven’t resulted in a hit have been sharply, and deeply hit.

John Farrell has stated that everything offensively with Arencibia is secondary, though, as he wants his young catcher to focus on defense first and learn his pitching staff to the best of his ability. Though I might not go as far as some people to say that Arencibia will win Rookie of the Year honors this year, he should have an impressive first Major League season and only build on that for years to come.

D: The Jays have a relatively young starting rotation and John Farrell, a former Major League pitcher, always did an excellent job in Boston with the starters.  How has John approached this young staff this season and what can Jays fans expect from the starters?

J: With John Farrell having been a pitching coach – not to mention the pitching coach of a division rival – the Jays have an embarrassment of riches almost when it comes to pitching advice. On top of incumbent pitching coach Bruce Walton and new bullpen coach Pan Hentgen (yes, that Pat Hentgen), the Jays having Farrell in the fold is another set of experienced eyes to look at all of the Jays’ young pitching. Farrell works very well with Walton, and all of the pitchers on the Jays are excited that a pitching coach is now their new manager, unlike previous manager Cito Gaston who was a batting coach.

In terms of what to expect from the starters, look for Romero to lead the way and log another 200+ inning season, as his work in between starts goes a long way to keep him healthy throughout the season. Brandon Morrow is set to return from the DL and should improve on his performance last season, but we’ll have to wait and see whether or not this minor injury from Spring Training affects him when he returns to action next week. For Brett Cecil, he’ll need to regain his velocity but the core elements are still there, so he should still have success, but could regress from last year. Kyle Drabek will evolve into a downright stud, as evidenced by his starts already this season, but he’ll have to really work on his command and cutting down on his walks.

Rounding out the rotation are either Jesse Litsch or Jo-Jo Reyes, both of whom could probably perform admirably in the no. 5 spot. All in all, pitching is one of Toronto’s biggest strengths and that trend should continue this season.

D: It looks as though it’s another early season struggle at the plate for Travis Snider.  How long will the Jays give him to get it going before they decide to make a move with him?  If they do make a move, what will his future entail?  DH every few games, out right release, trade?

J: It’s another early season struggle for Snider, yes, but it’s very different from years past. This time around, regardless of how bad he could hit (within reason) the Jays are fully committed to him and are going to put him in the lineup virtually every day regardless. A lot of Jays fans, myself included, feel that Snider is a sleeping beast at the plate and will awake soon enough this season, and playing every day should help him get into a groove, especially against left-handed pitching, which he did not see a lot of last season.

There won’t be any moves made because Jays brass sent Snider down to the minors last year following a slump, so he just has to take his licks in the Majors this season and show what he has. It’s doubtful the Jays would ever contemplate trading Snider because he is still so young, and even if he continued to slump at the plate, Alex Anthopoulos would definitely not sell low on him.

All in all, hopefully Snider shows more consistency at the plate, as he has showcased his cannon arm in left field on multiple occasions this season already, and silences his critics.

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Thanks to Derek for joining me on this series preview, and feel free to check out BoSox Injection for anything to do with Red Sox!

-JM

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Romero did just about all he could do in his last start against the Mariners, pitching an 8 inning complete game – the fourth of his career – while allowing just 2 earned runs and striking out 8. He trimmed his team-leading ERA down to 1.66 (2.39 FIP), as he hasn’t allowed more than 2 earned runs in any start this season. The hard luck loss snapped his personal 5 game road winning streak, but Romero will look to repeat his efforts against the Red Sox and Matsuzaka, where a win is a realistic possibility. Romero hasn’t exactly had the best luck against the Red Sox in 9 career starts, going 2-4 with a 7.42 ERA, 2.038 WHIP, and 27 walks, his most walks against any opponent.
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Tags: Aaron Hill Boston Red Sox Brett Cecil Jed Lowrie Ricky Romero Toronto Blue Jays Travis Snider

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