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Series preview: Cleveland vs. Blue Jays

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and friends bring their big bats to Cleveland

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at Toronto Blue Jays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

As Cleveland slowly starts to face more opponents outside of the AL Central, they will bring in another fresh face to Progressive Field in the Toronto Blue Jays this weekend. These two teams haven’t played each other since July 2019 when Cleveland took the series, 2-1, by a combined score of 13-5.

Things may not be so lopsided this time around. Toronto sits at 25-24 on the season — just two fewer wins than Cleveland but 5.5 games back in a much more competitive AL East. Their offense, led by a core group of young sluggers who will be around for the next half-decade at least, has racked up 241 runs to help them reach a +31 run differential on the season.

Toronto enters this series on a bit of a skid, however, going 3-7 in their last 10. Those losses came in a brutal stretch of games against the Red Sox, Rays, and Yankees. Though they did take two of three in their last series against New York.

To add to their young core, the Blue Jays went out and spent on free agent shortstop Marcus Semien (who has since been moved to second base) and outfielder George Springer. Semien has been a brilliant addition — and I’ll talk about him in a bit — but Springer has been limited to just four games by injuries. He hit well in his handful of at-bats, including two homers and two walks, but four games are still only four games. It’s been a rough start to his Blue Jay career. Currently, he is on the 10-day injured list with a quad injury.

Weather may be a factor in the three-game series, with rain expected in Cleveland Friday night into Saturday. Luckily, Sunday’s forecast is clear and the game can get in and finish so Cleveland can get some rest before a doubleheader against the White Sox Monday.

Team at a glance

  • Record: 25-24
  • Runs Scored: 241
  • Run Differential: +31
  • Last 10: 3-7
  • Slash: .253/.318/.432
  • wOBA: .326
  • wRC+: 107
  • ERA: 3.94
  • SIERA: 3.79
  • K-BB%: 16.3%

Projected starters

Friday, May 28, 7:10 p.m. ET: LHP Hyun Jin Ryu vs. Eli Morgan
Hyun Jin Ryu, in the second year of a four-year, $80 million deal he signed prior to last season, has been worth every penny so far. The lefty has a 2.53 ERA this season through nine starts, with a 24.6% strikeout rate to just a 2.8% walk rate. He held the Rays to two runs over 6.2 innings in his last outing, striking out a season-high seven in the process.

At his best, Ryu is a groundball machine working with upwards of six pitches at any given moment. He relies primarily on a four-seam, changeup, cutter combination, and is lucky to ever touch 90 mph with his fastball. He’s given up some hard contact this season, but his ability to avoid walks and get batters to chase bad pitches with his deceptive cutter has been enough to quietly keep him among baseball’s elite pitchers.

Also of note on Friday, Eli Morgan will make his major-league debut for Cleveland. He brings a low-90s fastball and one of the best changeups in the entire organization.

Saturday, May 29, 4:10 p.m. ET: RHP Ross Stripling vs. Sam Hentges
Unlike Ryu, who excelled after leaving the Dodgers, Ross Stripling hasn’t been the same since ditching California for Canada. He was acquired at the 2020 trade deadline and subsequently carried a 6.32 ERA over five games (two starts) for the Blue Jays. This season, his ERA dropped all the way to 5.63, which of course still isn’t great. Stripling is striking over a quarter of the batters he faces, though, and has a not-so-terrible 7% walk rate. So what’s going on?

Simply enough, he’s getting hit hard. There’s really no other explanation for it. Despite the high strikeout rate, he doesn’t have any dominating pitches, doesn’t get batters to chase anything, and as a result is hammered every time someone makes contact. Digging a little deeper, he raised his release point in 2020, and while it helped the break on his curveball, he still struggles to get any meaningful horizontal action on his slider and changeup.

Stripling primarily relies on a 97.1 mph fastball 45.8% of the time. He also throws a curveball, slider, and changeup almost equally.

Sunday, May 30, 1:10 p.m. ET: LHP Steven Matz vs. Aaron Civale
Steven Matz started 2021 looking like the highly touted pitcher he was meant to be with the Mets. Over his first three starts, he allowed just three earned runs over 18.1 innings and struck out 18 batters. Since then, however, things have been a bit rockier. He’ll enter Sunday’s start with a 4.28 ERA on the season, with 14.9% of his fly balls leaving the park for home runs. Still, if Matz’s current stats hold, it would arguably be his best season since his rookie campaign in 2015 or his sophomore season a year later.

Matz’s last outing was his best of the year when he held the Yankees to one run over 6.2 innings with a season-high 10 strikeouts.

Matz has been slowly implementing a changeup over the last three seasons. He threw it 15.8% of the time in 2018, 20.1% in 2019, 26.5% last year, and it has leveled out to 25.2% this season. Looking at that 85.6 mph changeup paired with a 94.7 mph sinker (that also happens to mirror the spin on his sweeping curveball), and suddenly a deceptive repitiore emerges.

Lineup highlights

2B Marcus Semien - Marcus Semien was the Blue Jays’ “small” acquisition of the offseason — just a one-year, $18 million deal — but so far, he’s been the best. The 30-year-old is slashing .288/.355/.545 with 13 home runs and a 147 wRC+.

1B/DH Vladimir Guerrero Jr. - Somehow, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is still only 22 years old, and that is terrifying. Vladdy Jr., just like his dad, is an immensely talented hitter and at this rate might even surpass his old man someday. Guerrero Jr. is slashing .333/.443/.661 on the year, with a 14.6% walk rate, 14.% strikeout rate, 16 home runs, and a 199 wRC+. If all those numbers hold, they are all career highs. Yes, even the home runs — through 49 games, Guerrero Jr. has already surpassed his previous high of 15 homers hit over 123 games in his rookie season.


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