Sep 19, 2013; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Blue Jays third baseman Brett Lawrie (13) congratulates first baseman Adam Lind (26) on a home run during the seventh inning against the New York Yankees at Rogers Centre. Blue Jays beat the Yankees 6 to 2. Mandatory Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

Toronto Blue Jays Versus the 2014 Yankees

The Yankees chastised the Blue Jays in their 2013 season series 14 to 5. The Yankees won all 10 of their home games. They even had a twelve-game winning streak against Toronto. This article investigates who the Toronto Blue Jays will face when they play the New York Yankees in 2014 and how the Jays could fare better against them.

The Yankees were not a great hitting team in 2013. They were slow too. Injuries saw to that. They had 26 players hurt all told including Derek Jeter, Curtis Granderson, Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez, and Kevin Youkilis. The excellent leadership of manager Joe Girardi cobbled enough replacements for the entire season, but they could not hit or run well.

The Yankees Beat Jays With Pitching and Fielding

The reason why the Yankees beat the Jays was the former’s strength in pitching and fielding. These were the mirror reasons why the Jays did poorly in 2013. The Blue Jays starting rotation was devastated by injuries. Sixty percent of the starters were out for most the season. Even R. A. Dickey pitched with pain; he soldiered on, but started the season slow as did Mark Buerhle. The replacement starting pitchers were of minor league caliber and did badly. The Jays had very little starting pitching depth in 2013.

Toronto also committed 111 errors last year, 11 against the Yankees. The Yankees only made 69 errors in 2013. The American League average was 89. The Yankees were the third best fielding team in the AL with a percentage of .988. The Jays’ infield, with the losses of Jose Reyes and Brett Lawrie, was weak. Second base under Maicer Izturis and Emilio Bonifacio was a black hole defensively.

One group of Yankees that escaped injury was the starting rotation. Four of their pitchers made at least 28 starts. They also had five starters who pitched over 125 innings. The Jays only had two.

The Yankees did not have the best staff in the league in 2013, but they kept the team in contention. Andy Petitte, Hiroki Kuroda, and Ivan Nova pitched well. CC Sabaithia’s 2013 season was perhaps his worst, but his bad year is many starters’ average. Relievers Rivera and David Robertson were stellar. Overall, the pitching staff was in fifth best in fWAR in the MLB. If Sabbathia bounces back and Tanaka pitches to his potential then the rotation will give up runs like Scrooge gave out presents.

Pitching, of course, makes its mark on fielding. The Yankee pitchers could count on ground outs because even though they had many replacement players, they were still good fielders. The Jays did not have this defensive support so many more pitches became hits, more errors committed, and fewer double plays made. The Jays were weak up the middle. The Yankees had two-time golden glove recipient Robinson Cano at second. Enough said.

The 2013 Yankees simply out-pitched and out-fielded Toronto. This goes to show that a team can get by with weaker hitting but it cannot win without good pitching and defence.

Different Team

The 2014 Yankees are fielding a different team from last year. Robinson Cano, $240 million richer, now plays for the Seattle Mariners. Cano was the Yankees’ best hitter. He led in hits, RBI’s, OBP, home runs, and batting average. Yes, Cano is gone, but he is not the only one. Alex Rodriguez played little last year and banned for all of 2014 due to his use of PEDs. Mariano Rivera, perhaps the greatest reliever of all time retired, as did Yankee ace starter Andy Petitte. Power hitter Curtis Granderson moved to the Mets and Kevin Youkilis went to Japan. Vernon Wells, whose bat really stung the Jays, was waived in January. So, with all that talent gone, can the Yankees make an impact in the AL East? Definitely.

As usual, the Yankees are buying their way to the World Series. During the off-season, the Yankees went out and bought a good deal of talent… that can run and hit. Presently, they have: two new outfielders, CF Kevin Ellsbury and RF Carlos Beltran; two new infielders, 3B Kelly Johnson and 2B Brian Roberts; and a new catcher, Brian McCann. Two other positions will be filled by people who were absent for most of all last season, SS Derek Jeter and 1B Mark Teixeira.

The Yankees also spent $155 million to sign free agent Masahiro Tanaka, plus paid out a $20 million release fee to his former team, the Sendai Golden Eagles. Tanaka will play seven years for the Yankees. Tanaka uses a high, three-quarter arm slot with a drop-and-drive motion. His fastball usually is in the low-90s but he can get it up to 97 mph. He also has a 88 mph splitter, plus a mid-80s slider. His curveball is his show me pitch.

The addition of former Red Sox Jacoby Ellsbury, 31, in center, will give the team one of the top ten defensive outfielders in the majors as well as an excellent lead off left-handed batter. He stole 52 bases last year and hit .298/.355/.426.

Brett Gardner, LF, is one of the few starting fielders from the 2013 team, and like Ellsbury, is a fine defensive player with a lot of speed on the bases. Gardner, 31, is in a contract year, so he should come close to his 2013 numbers where he hit .273/.344/.416 and had a 3.2 WAR. Gardner has speed and is capable of stealing 40 plus bases. He most likely will hit second after Ellsbury.

Carlos Beltran, former Cardinal, will play right field. This switch hitter has great offensive power. His BA is in the high .280s and one can expect him to hit around 25 to 30 home runs. His defence is not as good as his knees have seen better days so he may play DH at times.

Team captain SS Derek Jeter was out except for 18 games in 2013. He still was not over his 2012 ALCS ankle injury. It is doubtful if Jeter will play most of the season as his age (40 in June) and his injury will cost him. Still, he brings leadership and will make an impact with his bat in the games he will play. He most likely will start about 50 or so at short, hit at around .300, and fill-in at DH. Jeter will retire after the 2014 season.

First baseman Mark Teixeira, 34, only played in 15 games in 2013 due to injuring his right wrist. This five-time gold glover winner, if healthy, will play great defence. He is definitely in the top three at his position. He is a switch hitter, walks a lot, but hits for a low average. He is capable of hitting well-over 25 home runs, about 80 RBI’s, and his WAR should be at around 2.5. Expect Teixeira to hit in fourth position behind Beltran.

The Yankees replaced catcher Chris Stewart, now with Pittsburg, with former Braves backstop Brian McCann. McCann signed for five years and hits left. He has played in seven All-Star games and has won the Silver Slugger award five times. Expect him to hit in the high .270s, get a walk every ten at bats, and strike out less than 70 times this season. He is capable of hitting 30 taters and poking in 90 or so runs. He will probably hit in fifth spot. McCann will not be as good as Stewart in keeping the runners from stealing, but that is not why he was hired. He is a run producer first. Still, he frames the ball well and sticks up for his pitchers. This Georgian boy is very intense… scary actually. Many Blue Jays in 2013 thought him a little mad when they played against Atlanta.

Alphonso Soriano, 37, played 93 games in left with the Cubs and 58 more with the Yankees last year. Soriano might be traded as there are just not enough spots in the outfield. Most likely he will stay and play DH. He is capable of hitting 30 or more home runs but has nearly a 25 percent strikeout rate and walks at only 6 percent of his plate appearances. Last year, for the Cubs and Yankees, he had 34 home runs, and hit .255/.302/.489 and knocked in 101 RBIs.

New Yankee Kelly Johnson was hired for his defence, but because there are few places to go and there is a real need for it, he will play 3rd. Considering he played 2nd base most his career he will likely be average to good at the position, but probably no more. He hit .235 in 2013. Expect Johnson to strike out 24 percent of the time, but drive in about 50 runs and get around 15 home runs.

So far, the Yankees have Brian Roberts playing second. It’s an understatement that Roberts is a shadow of Cano. He most likely will be replaced early in the season due past injuries and age (36). Five years ago he was a base stealing threat, not now. His WAR stands at 1.0. His defence has gone down as well. His UZR was at 5 in 2008 and now it is below negative 2. A certain rookie by the name of Dean William Anna may take over from Roberts at second… then New York itself. Yes, it is safe to say that the 2014 Yankees are a different team.

What Then Must The Jays Do?

So if the Yankees of 2014 have better speed and run production, as well as excellent defence and possibly one of the best pitching staffs in the majors, then one questions stands out. How can the Blue Jays win a majority of the 19 games they play the Yankees, when the team is better than last year?

Hitting

First, the Toronto Blue Jays hitters must stay healthy for most the season and hit their career average or better. That is what was projected they needed to do before the beginning of the 2013 season. It is still true for 2014 against the Yankees. If they do that, then the team should still out hit their rivals.

Attack the Starters

Second, the Yankees’ pen is not as strong as the Blue Jays is on paper. The Jays should do whatever it takes to get the Yankees to go to their bullpen which is weaker than the starting rotation. That is easier said than done with the Yankees starters.

Pitching

Third, the Jays will have to out-pitch the Yankees. That means all the starters have to come in healthy. Next, they have got to get ahead on the count, like Tampa pitchers tend to do. They have to take advantage of many of the Yankees’ high strikeout rates. They must challenge hitters and constantly pound the strike zone. It is the only way to win against a team with such heavy bats. They must also not get rattled when things go wrong. This style means giving up some homers, but it means the Jays pitchers will have the initiative. The Jays must also know their opposition well. They must get inside each batter’s head and take advantage of every weakness and be aware of all their strengths.

Brandon Morrow will have to be the pitcher the Blue Jays have always imagined him to be, throwing heat with control and staying healthy. He will also need to pitch 150 innings and his outings must be quality starts. In short, it must be a career-defining season. If this is not possible, the Jays will probably not get far past .500.

R. A. Dickey must confound the Yankees as he did in the latter part of 2013 with his best knuckleball repertoire. Again, it is a question of health. The beginning part of the season he played with neck and back pain. He did poorly then. During the second half of the season he was relatively pain-free and did well, getting two wins against the Yankees.

It would be wiser if Mark Buehrle did not pitch to the Yankees. Sit him down. This is not a jest. Yes, Buehrle has thrown a no-hitter, has a World Series ring and has pitched over 200 innings-a-year for well over a decade. He is a rock. Against the Yankees; however, he is lemon meringue; he has not won a game since 2004. Todd Redmond should replace him for these games. In 2013, he had two of the five Jays’ wins against Yankees. He had control, pounded the zone, got ahead on the count, and varied his arm slot. Go with what works.

The Blue Jays bullpen must be as stellar as 2013. End of story. Trouble is, many bullpens in the MLB never have two excellent years in a row.

The Jays will need to count on their pitching depth for 2014. There are lots of replacement pitchers to take over any lame starters. Marcus Stroman, Kyle Drabek, and Sean Nolin and many others are capable of spelling the rotation if needs be, and needs will be; it is a long season.

Fielding

Fifth, the Jays gave up 44 more runs than they earned. A key reason, besides poor pitching, was that they were weak up the middle. Defence at second and at home plate was bad. Hopefully, Ryan Goins and new catcher Dioner Navarro will change that, if not, the Jays will lose many games. Maybe it is just coincidence but before Ryan Goins came to Toronto from Buffalo, the Jays were playing .432 ball. After he arrived, the Jays were exactly .500 for the last 33 games of the year he played. Lesson… if you are going to win you must be strong up the middle and turn double plays like Goins can do consistently. Goins had 12 Defensive Runs Saved in 32 games second base last season.

Injury Prevention (If Possible)

Sixth, the Jays may have addressed why so many injuries occurred. Last year, the Jays lost three out five of their starting rotation. Every outfield and infield position except first base and catcher, lost the original starting player for major parts of the season to boot. That is why Bryan King, the Strength and Conditioning Coordinator was replaced by Chris Joyner on October 18th. Hopefully, with better conditioning, a more aggressive spring training, and a great deal of luck, the Jays may keep their disabled list small not tall.

Confident, Hungry Kickers

Seventh, confidence must be in the team’s pocket. The Blue Jays must not get over-awed by their Yankee hosts. When they get to the Bronx, the team must come in with a killer instinct. If you are a good hitting team on paper, then make it a reality. In 2013, the Jays lost ten out of ten games in the Big Apple. Ten. Every game. If they want to contend in 2014, they must at least tie in New York. That goes for all the AL East teams. They must be the knickerbocker kickers not the bashed blue birdies.

Play Smart Like The Morning Sun

Eighth, the Blue Jays must also play like gentleman and be smarter. Instead of challenging umps over calls, the Jays must grow up. Yes, officials make mistakes but it does real harm to show them up or bad mouth them during or after a game. Word gets around.

Strategy lesson… there once was a baseball team in Vancouver called the Asahi (i.e., Morning Sun), rostered entirely by Japanese Canadians. The team played from 1914 till the players were put in internment camps during WWII. The Asahi played full-out but never questioned a call… never. It was team policy not to, especially when the team faced prejudicial calls. The team was known for being gentlemen and champions because of their hard play and high road attitude. The Jays should emulate them to get more calls their way. By the way, the Asahi are a Canadian-Nisei cultural icon and honoured in the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame. The 2013 Jays…?

Luck

To beat the 2014 Yankees, the Toronto Blue Jays need to stay healthy, hit to their potential, pitch like their momma’s lives are at stake and play smart, stellar defence. Most of all they need luck, something they did not have a lot of in 2013.

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