4 takeaways from the Blue Jays sweep of the Pirates

Toronto Blue Jays v Pittsburgh Pirates
Toronto Blue Jays v Pittsburgh Pirates / Joe Sargent/GettyImages
3 of 3

Takeaway #4: José Berríos and Yusei Kikuchi are for real

Even if you still don't fully trust them, José Berríos and Yusei Kikuchi showed enough in their bouncebacks against the Pirates this weekend that at least you can avoid breaking into a cold sweat every time the oft-beleaguered starters take the ball.

The two wild cards of the starting rotation, and possibly the entire roster, showed that despite hitting a speed bump in Boston, they are ready to be reliable contributors on what still could turn out to be one of the top rotations in baseball.

While Kikuchi has had a couple of rough outings with some bad luck involved, his other five starts, including Sunday's gem, have been stellar.

The 31-year-old pitched into the seventh on Sunday, scattering four hits and keeping the Pirates off the scoresheet through 6 1/3 innings. It's the fifth time he has gone five-plus innings this year, with no more than four hits in each outing and only three combined runs given up.

The lefty isn't striking out as many batters as in previous years, but in an encouraging sign that his offseason work is paying off, his 5.2% walk rate is the lowest of his career and well below the 12.8% he struggled to last year.

Kikuchi leads Blue Jays starters with a 3.35 ERA and 1.19 WHIP. He's tied for second in the majors with five wins, with the likes of Clayton Kershaw and Gerrit Cole. He also leads all starting pitchers with an incredible 92% LOB (Left on Base) rate.

José Berríos, with his five-hit, two-run, seven-strikeout performance against the Pirates on Saturday, has given the Jays a quality start in three of his last four outings (you can argue he would have had a quality start against the Rays in April before he took the comebacker off his leg in the fifth inning).

It's encouraging that his K/9 rate is back over a strikeout per inning, and his improved 11.8% swinging strike rate and 31.1% called-and-swinging strike rate look more like his numbers from some of his best years in Minnesota.

The 28-year-old has also featured better command this season, which shows up in his career-best 4.8 percent walk rate. His 4.79 ERA, still inflated from his disastrous season debut against the Royals, should continue to improve as he pitches closer to his 3.28 FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching).

Admittedly, it may take more time for fans to trust Berríos and Kikuchi, but now seven starts into the season, and after strong performances in Pittsburgh, they have shown they are different pitchers than last year.

We'll have to see how they handle one of the top offenses in baseball when the Jays play host to the high-flying Atlanta Braves this week, but for now, breathe a sigh of relief and enjoy the early returns after a successful weekend.