Series Preview: Oakland Athletics (74-60) vs. Toronto Blue Jays (70-62)

Against all odds, despite what the most irritating section of the fanbase has been baying for most of August, we have achieved Meaningful September Baseball.

It wasn’t easy. And it certainly wasn’t aways pretty. But against all odds, the Toronto Blue Jays fought and clawed their way to the bare minimum. Somehow, they didn’t beat Keegan Akin and Matt Harvey into the ground, which you hate to see. And I do absolutely fucking hate to see it. But oh well.

With their Wild Card rivals in the Oakland Athletics now coming to town, it’s time for the Jays to actually pull off some good results against teams they’re directly competing with. The A’s are two games out of the second wild card spot and three games up on the Jays. It’s past time to start leapfrogging some of these teams, but better late than never. Especially since they play the Yankees in the Bronx next and I don’t know if you’ve been keeping track, but they’re kind of scary right now.

Before we get into the upcoming three-game series against the Baltimore Orioles, humour me as I plead for engagement! If you like what Jayslam is doing, please consider sharing this post with a pal who may be interested! Or an enemy! I’m happy with either.

Share

Likewise, if you’ve been enjoying Jayslam, want to see more of it, or want to support its continued existence, consider getting a paid subscription! Paid ones get you access to exclusive posts such as the podcast portions my pre-season predictions (which are, as always, not looking so good), as well as to the comments section.


TRANSACTION NEWS

As expected, George Springer and Danny Jansen returned from the IL, albeit sooner than the last post anticipated, with Soringer returning on Monday and Jansen on Tuesday. To make room, the Blue Jays optioned Josh Palacios and Trent Thornton to Triple-A. Springer coming back is self-evidently great (though it’ll interesting to see how they’ll juggle Springer’s need to DH a lot of games with the need to rest other clearly exhausted position players), but Jansen, who homered on Tuesday, also poses an interesting question: Just who, exactly, is the Jays’ starting catcher?

For now, the Jays will be happy to use a three man catchers’ rotation, with Jansen catching Hyun Jin Ryu, Kirk catching Robbie Ray, and the other three starting catchers being divvied up between Jansen, Kirk, and Reese McGuire based on rest and matchups. It’s not something the Jays should be overly concerned about now, but it’s going to be interesting to monitor in the offseason.

Elvis Luciano, the Jays’ 2019 Rule 5 pick who became the first MLB player born in the 2000’s, was released August 23rd, making room on the 40-man roster, but re-signed a week later on the 30th to a minor league contract. Luciano being let go, however momentarily, came as something of a surprise, given his 3.16 ERA at Double-A, but it’s plain to see where his flaws as a pitcher have been. While his strikeout, ground ball, and fly ball rates are all hovering around average, he’s walked a lot of hitters. 11.5 per cent of them, to be exact. The walks are likely affecting how deep he goes into games too. In twelve starts, he’s only managed 37 innings, just over three innings per game. It was generally accepted among evaluators that Luciano’s big league future would come in the bullpen, but that’s being made all the more clear now.

Does that warrant letting a 21-year old Double-A pitcher go? Not usually, I would think. Which is why I wager that the Jays and Luciano had a handshake agreement in place before the move. Regardless, the Blue Jays clearly still see something in Luciano. It’s not like they had to re-sign him. All that said, he’ll be somebody to keep an eye on, even if he’s not turning up on prospect lists anymore.

Springer and Jansen were called up too early to be the Jays’ two September call-ups, as I had predicted. Instead, the call-ups went to Nate Pearson and Bryan Baker, who know occupies the 40-man spot vacated by Elvis Luciano. When we last saw Pearson, he had been turned into mincemeat by the Astros and had been promptly sent back to Triple-A. One stint with the Bisons and sports hernia-related absence later, and Pearson is back, to be used explicitly as a reliever. Fans of course will remember his spectacular relief appearance in last year’s Wild Card Series. In six one-inning outings in Buffalo, Pearson pitched to a 3.00 ERA with eight strikeouts and (and this is the key number) only two walks. His command and his ability to throw his pitches for strikes are going to be what determine his role, but he easily has the potential to be on e of the best relievers in the Blue Jays’ bullpen.

Baker is a 6’6’’ reliever that the Jays acquired from the Rockies after the 2018 season as the player to be named later in the Seung-hwan Oh deal. Per Baseball America at the time of the deal, Baker is a power pitcher whose fastball tops out at 99 mph, though he also throws a cutter, slider, and changeup. He strikes out a ton of batters but struggles mightily with command, though he’s cut down on walks this year and has kept the ball in the ballpark. Sure, why not! 

Also signed to a minor league deal is veteran outfielder Gregory Polanco, a longtime member of the Pittsburgh Pirates. The former 12th-best prospect in the game according to Baseball Prospectus, Polanco’s 2014-18 seasons could generously be described as “inconsistent”, but he still flashed potential, with plus power and speed, along with fairly poor defence. 2019 however, brought about the stark downward spiral that led to his release by the Pirates. He’s still hit the ball hard and runs fast enough, but Polanco’s loss of any and all ability to put the bat on the ball (and continued horrid defence) led to a 68 wRC+ and -2.0 fWAR from 2019-21.

Polanco is pretty much the definition of a reclamation project, and if all goes well, he won’t see any time with the Blue Jays outside of Buffalo this season. On the other hand, he is a lefty bat (albeit not a great one), and there’s no such thing as a bad minor league contract.

The Jays also activated relief pitcher Anthony Castro from the IL and optioned him to Triple-A. The trade for Joakim Soria was also completed, with the Jays sending a couple of Low-A lottery ticket prospects in catcher J.J. D’Orazio and pitcher Yaifer Perdomo to the Diamondbacks.

Speaking of rentals, Brad Hand is a Blue Jay no more, claimed off waivers at the end of a nightmare week for him personally by the New York Mets, because of course they fucking would.

Of the deals the Jays made to upgrade the bullpen, it’s safe to say the Hand trade turned out the worst by far. In 8 ⅔ innings with the Jays, hand struck out only 12.2 per cent of hitters while getting the shit kicked out of him by hard contact. Hand failed to justify his use in high leverage, and by the end of his brief tenure, he had even failed to justify being used over Tayler Saucedo.

And it looks even worse when you see that Riley Adams has been playing well for the Nationals. While it’s unlikely that Adams makes the Jays think about this deal at all for that much longer, it’s hard to see the whole situation as anything other than a dud. It happens.

BEST BIRDS

Hitter: Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (12) 12 plate appearances, .333/.333/1.083, 13 total bases, 4 Weighted Runs Created, 0.17 Win Probability Added, 0.16 WPA/LI

This is Vladdy’s first Best Bird since the July sweep of the Texas Rangers, and his first award since the Jays moved back to Toronto. Since the move, a visibly tired Vladdy had been decidedly non Vladdy-like going into the Baltimore series, slashing .261/.346/.357 with a 93 wRC+, seeing pitches that he ordinarily would’ve sent to Alpha Centauri and getting just under them or bashing them into the ground.

Safe to say that Vladdy’s looking better now, crushing three home runs and building on a 10-game hit streak.

Honourable Mentions: Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Marcus Semien

Pitcher: Robbie Ray (13) 7 innings, 25 batters faced, 4 hits, 2 earned runs, 10 strikeouts, 2.59 FIP, 0.16 Win Probability Added, 0.24 WPA/LI

Get your money Robert. But also, please come back.

Honourable Mentions: Jordan Romano, Hyun Jin Ryu

BEST BIRD STANDINGS

Hitters:

  1. Vladimir Guerrero Jr.- 12

  2. Bo Bichette- 7

  3. George Springer- 7

  4. Marcus Semien- 6

  5. Teoscar Hernández- 3

  6. Lourdes Gurriel Jr.- 2

  7. Joe Panik- 2 (now on the Miami Marlins)

  8. Randal Grichuk- 2

  9. Santiago Espinal- 1

  10. Cavan Biggio- 1 (10-day IL)

Pitchers:

  1. Robbie Ray- 13

  2. Hyun Jin Ryu- 8

  3. Alek Manoah- 6

  4. Ross Stripling- 4 (10-day IL)

  5. Steven Matz- 4

  6. José Berríos- 2

  7. Julian Merryweather- 2 (60-day IL)

  8. Trevor Richards- 1

  9. Anthony Kay- 1 (Triple-A)

  10. Anthony Castro- 1 (Triple-A)

  11. Ryan Borucki- 1 (Triple-A)

SCHEDULE/PROBABLE PITCHERS

Friday, September 3 (7 p.m. EST/5 p.m. MST): Sean Manaea vs. Alek Manoah

Saturday, September 4 (3 p.m. EST/1 p.m. MST): Paul Blackburn vs. José Berríos

Sunday, September 5 (1 p.m. EST/11 a.m. MST): Cole Irvin vs. Robbie Ray

THE OPPOSITION

Pythagorean Record: 74-60

Run differential: +67 (602 runs scored, 535 runs allowed)

Season Series vs. Blue Jays: 2-2

Record since the last series vs. Blue Jays: 55-46

Last 10 games: 4-6

In what should by all rights be a good season for the Athletics, as they’re in the thick of the Wild Card hunt, the A’s have been overshadowed by their shitty, shitty ownership and their dispute with the city of Oakland over a new stadium, with the team threatening to relocate, maybe to Las Vegas, an idea that I abhor with all my heart. As for the actual on field product, they’ve lost some steam recently, falling out of a playoff spot and trying to claw their way back into it, not helped at all by Ramón Laureano’s suspension for PEDs.

It would be wrong to say Oakland’s a bad team though. The Athletics are never truly a bad team. Starling Marté and Matt Olson, specifically, are the least bad, both putting together phenomenal seasons. Mark Canha, Tony Kemp, Jed Lowrie and Josh Harrison have all been solid in their respective roles. Matt Chapman and Sean Murphy have both been about average bats, but are boosted by their excellent defence.

The starting rotation has been solid as well, though it may feel the loss of Chris Bassitt, who’s likely out for the rest of the regular season after getting hit in the face with a ball and undergoing surgery. In the interim though, Sean Manaea, Frankie Montas, Cole Irvin, James Kaprielian, and Paul Blackburn have all done more than fine, though Montas was just placed on the Restricted List due to visa issues and Irvin, Kaprielian, and Blackburn have all been subject to at least some good luck, judging by their peripherals. Oakland’s bullpen, comprising Sergio Romo, Andrew Chafin, Lou Trivino, Jake Diekman, Yusmeiro Petit, and A.J. Puk, among others, has been mostly good thoughout the season, but has struggled with inconsistency.

Best Players:

  • Starling Marté, Center Field, .319/.396/.463, 140 wRC+

  • Matt Olson, First Base

  • Chris Bassitt, Starting Pitcher (10-day IL)

  • Matt Chapman, Third Base

  • Sean Manaea, Starting Pitcher

Underperformers:

  • Mitch Moreland, Designated Hitter (10-day IL)

  • Elvis Andrus, Shortstop

  • Chad Pinder, Super Utility