Prelude to a Bird Series? Cardinals at Blue Jays June 6-9

The Threeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee Amigos steer their ghost horses into a group high-five. - Tom Szczerbowski

The 31-30 Cardinals visit the 37-24 Blue Jays and face off against all of Toronto's good starting pitchers and their many scary hitters.

I'm not the only Cardinals fan at VEB who is a casual Blue Jays fan. Sure, some of it has to do with Colby Rasmus being traded to the Jays and more or less coming into his own. But there's more to this bandwagon than Corky Ramos. The Blue Jays are an exciting ball club that's fun to watch, and not just because Jose Reyes is their starting shortstop. A combination of talented young players, excellent power hitters, and wonderful uniforms is a mighty draw for even Cardinals fans.

Schedule

Tonight, Lance Lynn (3.48 ERA, 3.88 xFIP) and Marcus Stroman (7.30 ERA, 3.00 xFIP) take the hill at 6:07pm CT.

Shelby Miller (4.06 ERA, 4.69 xFIP) and the beguiling Mark Buerhle (2.10 ERA, 4.09 xFIP) pitch Saturday at 12:07pm CT.

Jaime Garcia (5.47 ERA, 2.59 xFIP) and Drew Hutchison (3.50 ERA, 3.80 xFIP) wrap up the series Sunday at 12:07pm CT.

Some Guys Who Hit Good

Jose Bautista (178 wRC+) is hitting for a significantly higher BABIP than his career average, and his HR/FB% is more in line with those from his most successful seasons. He's healthy, lucky, funny, and very dangerous. He can also throw you out at first base. From right field. (Why is he so good at that? Beyond the Boxscore has it covered.)

Edwin Encarnacion fixed his swing in 2012 and has since enjoyed a significant boost to all his offensive numbers. At 167 wRC+, 2014 is his most successful offensive campaign to-date. Back problems have cost Encarnacion a few games recently, so perhaps his power won't be up to snuff for this series. Of course, if he hits a HR off the Cardinals, we'll get to see this (or this, if you prefer).

Melky Cabrera (133 wRC+), a high-BABIP hitter, appears to be past his 2013 injury troubles. He's having his second best offensive season so far. It will be interesting to see where Cabrera lands in the off-season, or if the Blue Jays will try to keep the band together.

Until he landed on the DL with a hamstring, Colby Rasmus (105 wRC+) was having a typically streaky season this year. He showed good power (9 HRs, .267 ISO), a low walk rate and BABIP, and a 33% strikeout rate. A free agent after 2014, it will also be interesting to see where Rasmus ends up. (And which batting stance he'll use.)

Then there are the somewhat regular guys, like slugger and sometime third baseman Juan Francisco (158 wRC+), 1B/OF/DH Adam Lind (171 wRC+, .405 BABIP!), second baseman Steve Tolleson (152 wRC+), and catcher Josh Thole (112 wRC+). If nearly all these guys are in the lineup at once, any pitcher would have his work cut out for him. And since the Rogers Centre is a hitter's park, every pitcher already has a tall order.

Some Guys Who Don’t Hit So Good

Brett Lawrie (96 wRC+) is an exciting player twatch. Unfortunately, he isn't as good as people hoped. He doesn't walk much, strikes out a fair amount, and has BABIP drops every year. Despite massive drop-offs in almost every measure, Lawrie's wRC+ is 2 points ahead of last year's. Why? Look at this:

2011: .293/.373/.580 .318 BABIP 157 wRC+ 43 games 2.5 fWAR
2012: .273/.324/.405 .311 BABIP 98 wRC+ 125 games 2.5 fWAR
2013: .254/.315/.397 .280 BABIP 94 wRC+ 107 games 1.3 fWAR
2014: .240/.289/.428 .253 BABIP 96 wRC+ 53 games 1.1 fWAR

Lawrie had 11 home runs in 107 games last year. This year he already has 10 home runs in 54 games. But with all his other numbers tanking... is Brett Lawrie going full Corey Patterson? Is that where he's headed? One should never go full Corey Patterson.

Dioner Navarro, the starting catcher, left his power at Wrigley Field. He's only got 3 HRs this year and, despite a .271 batting average, a 85 wRC+.

Kevin Pillar (52 wRC+) has taken Rasmus's low-walk ways to the extreme by walking exactly zero times so far in 20 games (33 PA). He strikes out a lot, doesn't hit for power, and doesn't steal bases. Pillar's sole skill appears to be an above average glove.

What is Happening With These Guys?

Anthony Gose (85 wRC+) is an excellent defender who doesn't hit for power (.055 ISO!) but has a 13.4% walk rate.

Jose Reyes (95 wRC+) is putting up the worst BABIP (.269) of his career, and has seen it drop off of 46 points since 2013. What gives? His GB% is ~10 points lower than 2013 while his FB% jumped up 10.5 points. Yikes. Reyes's LD% is stable and precisely his career average. To what do we attribute this? Reyes had a hamstring injury coming into the season, so perhaps he's still feeling the effects of that. Or, perhaps a rough March and April are still diminishing his overall line. As we saw with the boost in Matt Carpenter's batting line Wednesday night, we're still dealing with small samples.

Some Guys Who Pitch Good

The Blue Jays have two starters with xFIPs below 4.00: Drew Hutchison (3.80 xFIP) and the talented prospect Marcus Stroman (3.00 xFIP). The Cardinals are unlucky enough to draw games against both of them.

Hutchison has a solid 22.3% K-rate and a decent 7.4% BB-rate. He's as good as he looks.

Don't be fooled by Stroman's 7.30 ERA. He's pitched half his 12.1 innings out of the bullpen, and the other half in one start against the Royals. In that start, he gave up five hits and struck out six. I'll let Eric Hosmer describe Stroman's filth.

Out of the bullpen, Brett Cecil (2.74 xFIP) and Casey Janssen (3.39 xFIP) are solid, though Janssen has definitely benefited from BABIP and LOB% luck.

Some Guys Who Don’t Pitch So Good

All but those 5 Blue Jays pitchers have xFIPs above 4.00. Many of them are well above 4.00, including almost all of the bullpen. Many of them have significant ERA-xFIP gaps. It's too weird and early to predict what will happen with this pitching, but I think it's safe to say that Toronto's strength is really in their bats. Looking at Toronto's pitching numbers made my head hurt, guys.

What is Happening With These Guys?

Mark Buehrle has almost always had an ERA much lower than his FIP and xFIP, but this year is really something: 2.10 ERA, 3.07 FIP, 4.09 xFIP. Why didn't I put Buehrle in the Good section? His HR/FB rate is only 2.4% and his LOB% is 80%, 7.2 points higher than his career rate. All his other numbers are at his career norms. He will regress some, but he's still a solid starter who sometimes puts up really good starts. (Get ready to frequently hear from the FSMW crew that Buehrle's from the St. Louis area!)

R.A. Dickey (4.25 ERA, 4.27 FIP, 4.38 xFIP) has been pretty disappointing since he joined the Blue Jays in 2013. Or, maybe it was silly to expect him to pitch nearly as well as he did in New York. Regardless of how poorly he's been pitching, it's good we won't have to watch Cardinals hitters be baffled by nonstop knuckleballs.

What We Said Then and What We Say Now

Here’s what The Red Baron had to say in his two sentence preview of the Blue Jays:

The Blue Jays could be better this year, if they can avoid the same kind of injuries that killed them in 2013. Then again, I just don't think the pitching is all that good; they might be the best last-place team in baseball, but the words 'last place' are still in there.

The last time the Blue Jays won the World Series were back-to-back Series wins in 1992 and 1993. That was also the last time they made the playoffs. When a team plays in the same division as such big-spenders as the Red Sox and the Yankees, it's difficult to find ways to compete with a smaller budget. In order to make the playoffs, everything would need to break rightespecially when a team is also competing with the shrewd Tampa Bay Rays.

In 2008, it looked for awhile like the Jays might end the drought. They didn't. Toronto had the second best run differential in the American League and finished fourth in the AL East. They under-performed their Pythag by 8 wins that year, and in the off-season sparked a debate here in the VEB comment section. I cannot find the debate, however, because SB Nation's search engine is under-performing its Pythag. Anyway, I said the Blue Jays weren't likely to make the playoffs as long as Boston and New York continued to outspend them to such a large degree. Some people strongly disagreed with my partly gut-based assessment, a hunch that has unfortunately been correct for the last several years. I hope 2014 is the year that the Blue Jays prove me wrong. Since everyone else in the AL East has been crappy, this is the year to do it.

If anything is going to stop Toronto, it'll be their pitching. The Blue Jays should make a trade or two before the deadline and really make a run at this thing. Yes, hopefully the Blue Jays continue their winning ways. That is, after the Cardinals leave town.

If you haven't had enough Blue Jays yet, swing on over to Bluebird Banter and check out The Blue Jays and the "Green Light". I was only slightly disappointed to learn it wasn't an homage to The Great Gatsbywhere the green light represents the playoffs, of coursebut is instead an interesting look at how often the 2014 Blue Jays are swinging with a 3-0 count.

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