Blue Jays: Steven Matz a top tier AL East starting pitcher?

The Blue Jays have to be thrilled with the early returns on Steven Matz, as the left-hander has been one of the best starters in the AL East thus far.

He was acquired through a trade with the Mets over the winter, and so far the fresh start has been exactly what the 29-year-old has needed. He picked up his second win of the young season on Saturday by throwing 6.0 innings and allowing just one earned run on five hits and three walks. It was all the most impressive considering that he had to work to stay in his effective rhythm with the Blue Jays clobbering the Angels on the other side of the ball. For example, the Blue Jays gave Matz a 47 minute break in the 2nd inning as they piled on seven runs.

It’s only been two starts for the southpaw as a Blue Jay, but I think it’s more than fair to say that he’s their second best starting pitcher at the moment behind Hyun Jin Ryu. The Jays have used Ross Stripling, T.J. Zeuch, and Tanner Roark to fill out the rest of the rotation so far, with David Phelps getting one start as an “opener”. The group will certainly fluctuate over time once they get their healthy starters back as well, which includes Robbie Ray, Nate Pearson, and maybe even Thomas Hatch.

Even if they can get their rotation back to 100% health, Matz may be staking his claim to that #2 spot in the group already. And as I look at the rotations in the rest of the AL East, he might even be a top five starter in the division.

I can hear you laughing from here, but let’s take a closer look and you’ll see that it’s not so far fetched.

The obvious top two starters in the division would be Gerrit Cole of the Yankees, and Ryu of the Blue Jays, who squared off on Opening Day in New York. Tyler Glasnow is likely the easy third best starter in the East, but after that the quality falls off pretty dramatically.

If we’re looking at the Yankees rotation, they’re really rolling the dice by hoping for healthy and productive seasons from Corey Kluber and Jameson Taillon. If one or both can stay healthy then they could be among the top five starters, but that’s a big if. After that it’s really hard to say what they’ll get from the likes of Domingo German (who was optioned on Saturday), Jordan Montgomery, and hopefully the eventual return of Luis Severino sometime in the second half.

As for the Rays, they’re not working with the same quality of pitching staff as usual. Glasnow is legit, but Ryan Yarborough is probably a stretch as a #2 starter, although he probably qualifies as one of the top five starters in the division at the moment. Beyond those two, the Rays are hoping for some magic from a group of veterans including Rich Hill, Michael Wacha, and Chris Archer. So far it hasn’t gone very well, and the latter left the mound on Saturday with what looked like what could be another serious injury.

The Red Sox have just as many question marks as the Yankees, but unfortunately their ace in Chris Sale is still recovering from Tommy John surgery. For now they’re relying on a group that includes Eduardo Rodriguez, Nate Eovaldi, Garrett Richards, Nick Pivetta, and Martin Perez. They might be at the top of the division after the first two weeks, but it’s not going to last very long. Rodriguez has a chance to be a solid arm after finishing 6th in AL Cy young voting in 2019, but he’s dealt with a lot of issues from his Covid-19 diagnosis last year that kept him out in 2020, and “dead arm” this spring, so we’ll see what 2021 brings for the Venezuelan.

Finally we come to the Orioles, who employ Matt Harvey as their number two starter and that should be all you need to know. They do have a solid arm in John Means as their de facto ace, and he’s looked very good through his first two starts, but the rest of the Orioles pitching staff is a nightmare.

Where does that leave Matz in this arbitrary ranking? Well, somewhere behind Gerrit Cole, Hyun Jin Ryu, and Tyler Glasnow, and in a reasonable debate amongst the likes of John Means, Eduardo Rodriguez, Ryan Yarborough and maybe Corey Kluber if he can somehow stay healthy. The quality of the arms in the division will certainly go up if and when we see healthy returns from Chris Sale and Luis Severino (and hopefully Pearson and Ray too), but for now it’s kinda hard to believe that there are so few high-end starting pitchers in the AL East right now.

Thus far Matz’s early return for the Blue Jays really couldn’t have gone a lot better, as he’s posted a 1.46 ERA and a 0.89 WHIP with 13 strikeouts over his two starts and 12.1 innings. He’s given the Jays some much needed length when it’s his turn to take the ball, and is quickly turning heads and changing minds with his performance. It’s been a pleasant surprise that I didn’t see coming, but so far Matz has been one of the best starters in the division.