April 9, 2013; Detroit, MI, USA; Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher J.A. Happ (48) pitches in the eighth inning against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park. Detroit won 7-3. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Toronto Blue Jays/Kansas City Royals Preview: 4/12/13


At 3-6 and 6-3 respectively, the Toronto Blue Jays and the Kansas City Royals come into Friday’s series opener in two completely different states, but with many similarities.

Both squads were very active this winter in addressing their needs, with both using the depth of their farm systems to help facilitate franchise-changing trades. Toronto obviously landed the trio of Dickey, Johnson, and Buehrle to round out their rotation, along with the bats and legs of Reyes and Bonifacio, parting with top prospects in Travis d’Arnaud, Jake Marisnick, Noah Syndergaard, and Justin Nicholino. On the other hand, Kansas City parted with Minor League Player of the Year Wil Myers and pitcher Jake Odorizzi in order to bring in James Shields and Wade Davis, and made a smaller deal to acquire Ervin Santana.

Both squads came into the season with heightened expectations. The Blue Jays were viewed as a favorite for the American League East, whereas the Royals, while improved in a stacked AL Central, still were seen as having their work cut out for them.

Yet here we sit, almost two weeks into the season, and both squads heading in completely opposite directions. The Blue Jays are hoping that trend changes, when they begin a three-game set with the Royals in Kansas City on Friday night.

Starters:
Game 1: J.A. Happ (1-0, 0.00 ERA) v/s Luis Mendoza (0-0, 1.50 ERA)
Game 2: R.A. Dickey (0-2, 8.44 ERA) v/s James Shields (1-1, 3.75 ERA)
Game 3: Brandon Morrow (0-1, 5.59 ERA) v/s Ervin Santan (1-1, 3.21 ERA)

Happ was dominant in his first start of the season, throwing five and a third scoreless innings against Boston on April 6th. He’ll look to keep that scoreless inning streak (insert tongue in cheek here) alive when he takes the bump on Friday. In one career start against Kansas City, Happ threw six innings of 2-run ball in a victory.

He’ll be opposed by Luis Mendoza in the series opener. Mendoza is coming off a solid, if unspectacular season in 2012, where he went 8-10 with a 4.23 ERA and 104 strike-outs in 166 innings pitched. He’s gotten off to a good start in 2013, taking a no-decision after throwing six innings of 1-run ball against the Phillies last Saturday. For his career, Mendoza 5 appearances (4 starts) against Toronto, posting a 1-2 record with a 5.64 ERA against the Blue Jays.

Game two will feature a match-up of aces, as R.A. Dickey looks for his first win against James Shields. Dickey has been knocked around pretty well in his first two starts of the season, both at home in Toronto. Perhaps the open air at Kaufman Stadium will help, but Dickey will come into the start with a 1-3 mark and a 5.52 ERA against the Royals in 10 appearances (4 starts).

Shields, the newly acquired ace of the staff, has split his early decisions, going 1-1 to start the year. However, “Big Game James” has seen a lot of the Toronto Blue Jays over the years, and the results have not been good for Toronto. Shields has owned the Blue Jays over the years, posting an 11-5 record with a 3.24 ERA and a 7.9 K/9 ratio over 21 starts while with Tampa Bay.

The finale will see Brandon Morrow and Ervin Santana close out the series. Morrow was light’s out in his first start, before joining the rest of the Jays staff in getting roughed up in Detroit. He’ll look to get back on track against the Royals, who Morrow has had mixed results against, with a 3-4 record, a 4.54 ERA, and a 8.0 K/9 ratio against over the course of 10 appearances (5 starts).

Ervin Santana, another offseason pitching addition for the Royals, will look to keep the Jays reeling. A master of inconsistency, Santana has been solid against the Blue Jays over the course of his career. In 14 starts with the Angels, Santana has posted a 6-5 record with a 3.95 ERA and a .235 BAA against the Blue Jays.

Line-Ups:

Toronto’s line-up is for today’s series opener, while Detroit’s represents the team’s projected Opening Day line-up.

Kansas City Royals:
1. LF: Alex Gordon
2. SS: Alcides Escobar
3. DH: Billy Butler
4. 3B: Mike Moustakas
5. C: Salvador Perez
6. 1B: Eric Hosmer
7. CF: Lorenzo Cain
8. RF: Jeff Francoeur
9. 2B: Chris Getz

Toronto Blue Jays:
1. SS: Jose Reyes
2. LF: Melky Cabrera
3. RF: Jose Bautista
4. 1B: Edwin Encarnacion
5. C: J.P. Arencibia
6. CF: Colby Rasmus
7. RF: Rajai Davis
8. 3B: Maicer Izturis
9. 2B: Emilio Bonifacio

Offensively, the Royals will represent a problem for the Blue Jays, as they rank fifth in team batting average, 14th in runs scored, and they have struck out the least of any team in baseball. They also rank second in MLB with a .359 batting average with runners in scoring position.

On the other hand, the Blue Jays have struggled offensively to start the season, specifically with runners in scoring position, ranking 26th in baseball with a .180 average in that situation. That has contributed to a team that stands 22nd in runs scored, and when you’ve surrendered the most runs in the game, not scoring any won’t help your cause.

At this stage, John Gibbons needs to create ways for Toronto to push some runners across in this series. That means moving runners along and giving the green light on the basepaths. The home run is a great tool, but right now it is inconsistent and this team could use some small ball to break out of their early funk at the plate.

Scoping The Competition:

I also had the luxury of sitting down with Mike Vamosi, a staff writer at FanSided’s Royals website, Kings of Kaufman, to ask him a few questions about this year’s Royals squad.

KF) How did you react to the Wil Myers for James Shields trade?

MV) I can’t go anywhere in Omaha when wearing Royals gear without this coming up, I was pretty angry at first but then realized you’ve got to give up something to get something which is what happened. People knock Shields as not being a one but on this team he’s acted so on and off the field. To show I’m ok I might get a Shields shirtsy to show I’m ok with it. But Wade Davis needs to pitch well to easy the pain of the trade also.

KF) Eric Hosmer was a bit of a disappointment in 2012. Will he rebound in 2013 or will he take a few seasons like Alex Gordon and Mike Moustakas before him?

MV) Hosmer and Moustakas need to get right for the team to reach the goals the fan base has for this team. Gordon struggles were he couldn’t stay on the field as a infielder in his previous life. Hos and Moose need there defense to translate to offense which hopefully the light bulb comes on, the Royals brought in Andre David who got a lot out of Hosmer in the minors as hitting coach this season.

KF) The Ervin Santana trade got lost in the shuffle of the Myers/Shields deal, but the early returns on Santana have been good. Do you think he’ll stay consistent as the season progresses or fall back into some old habits?

MV) Santana was aquired for a triple-A pitcher and KC is hoping for the 2008 or 2011 version which he showed in the home opener on Monday afternoon. Other than allowing three home runs at Chicago the results have been positive, I was there earlier this week and after early trouble he looked fantastic. Hopefully he keeps it up as he’ll be needed for the teams chances this season.

KF) The Royals are off to a hot start, but in a stacked division. Could they be this year’s A’s or Orioles?

MV) Compared to other divisions I like the Royals chances, they played decent in Chicago, were an out away from sweeping Philadelphia and this series will provide its challenges. My comparision is they could be the 2008 Rays but yes they could be the A’s or O’s of 2013 because they play in a softer division than the AL East or West.

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