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Series Preview: Toronto Blue Jays vs. New York Mets

The Mets welcome the red-hot Jays to town before taking the action up north on Wednesday and Thursday.

Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

The Blue Jays are hot right now. They've won their last 11 games and have climbed to within a game of first place in the American League East thanks to 356 runs scored and a plus-71 run differential that are both tops in the majors. That's probably not good for the Mets, who may have used up all the runs they have in Sunday's dramatic win over Atlanta. Then again, perhaps momentum is only as good as today's starting pitcher. Nah, if that were true, Toronto's streak would have ended before it started.

Let's start with the lineup, though. This unit can smash, as evidenced by the eight games in which Toronto has scored at least seven runs during this winning streak. Although Houston has hit six more home runs than the Blue Jays (only 79, boo hoo), Toronto does lead everyone with a .449 slugging percentage. The Mets slug .379 as a team.

Joey Bats and the other bats

Some of that is park factors, though, right? Rogers Centre has the reputation as a haven for hitters, but this year the stadium formerly known as SkyDome is suppressing offense (although not home runs). That's surprising to learn, because the Blue Jays don't have much of a problem hitting at home. It's the opponents that struggle to keep pace, and that's why Toronto is 20-12 when playing above the border this year.

In short, the players may really be this good. That's what happens when you trade for Josh Donaldson and he continues hitting like you'd expect an MVP candidate to. Add that to the already powerful bats of Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, and you've got one heck of a lineup. Those three sluggers as well as catcher Russell Martin are the four Blue Jays with at least 10 home runs already. Martin, the 32-year-old veteran, is showing that last year's impressive offensive campaign in Pittsburgh was no fluke. He's not walking as much as he did in 2014, but his .238 ISO is by far a career high.

This devastatingly powerful offense will be even scarier once second base revelation Devon Travis recovers from a shoulder injury. The rookie was hitting .271/.336/.504 in 36 games before he hit the disabled list. At least Toronto still has that other middle infield guy.

The return of the Kings

Yes, we've probably buried the lead a bit here. Jose Reyes is healthy again and he'll be returning to Citi Field along with R.A. Dickey this week. Unfortunately, Dickey won't be pitching in front of the fans that he dazzled in 2012, but it will be fun just having him around.

It wouldn't be quite as fun, though, if the Mets hadn't received such a haul in return for Dickey's services. Following Dickey's magical run to the National League Cy Young Award in 2012, the Mets made like a good stock trader and sold high. The knuckleballer went to Toronto and New York welcomed future stars Travis d'Arnaud and Noah Syndergaard.

That "future stars" things has worked out quite well so far. d'Arnaud is already providing above-average offense from the catcher spot, while Syndergaard was dominant in Triple-A this year before making his major league debut back in May.

Meanwhile, Dickey hasn't come very close to the production that made him the senior circuit's top hurler three years ago. In the two full seasons since the trade, he's seen his "peripheral" stats drop significantly. The strikeout and walk rates show that Dickey isn't fooling as many hitters with the knuckleball anymore, and he's not controlling it as well, either. Although the knuckleball is notoriously unpredictable in nature, Dickey appeared to be a master of it in 2011 and 2012. That doesn't seem to be the case anymore.

This year, Dickey's strikeout rate has dropped all the way to 15 percent. That's where it was back when the Mets were experimenting with him in 2010 and 2011. He was still able to be effective back then due to a naturally low BABIP, but now Dickey's walk rate is up to where it was in his pre-Mets days, and that's led to a 5.29 ERA. The good news is that if Dickey is bound to start stranding more runners and allowing fewer home runs per fly ball, so if he can get the walks under control, he can be an effective pitcher down the stretch.

That brings us to Reyes, who like Dickey, will probably never has another year like the last one he spent in New York. No, it wouldn't be crazy to see Reyes win another batting title before his career in through, but to do that he's got to avoid the injuries that limited him to 93 games in 2013 and have held him out of 30 games already this season.

When Reyes is healthy, he's still capable of great things at the plate, especially for a still-solid defensive shortstop. However, his shrinking power and rising strikeout rates over the past three years might prevent him from achieving MVP consideration. To be useful for this loaded Blue Jays offense, though, Reyes needs to just keep ripping line drives and staying on the field. That doesn't seem to be too much to ask from the former All-Star.

Can Toronto keep winning with this rotation?

Even after making big trades in recent years for Dickey and Reyes, the Blue Jays still have a nice core of young pitching. Unfortunately, both Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez are injured (Stroman is out for the year with a knee injury), while eccentric lefty Daniel Norris isn't ready for the the show yet. That has left Toronto with a group of pitchers that, until just recently, has struggled to keep opposing offenses in check.

Veteran lefty Mark Buehrle has been just a little more effective than Dickey so far. He's great for shortening up the time between pitches, but it's hard to get opponents out nowadays when you're only striking out four batters per nine innings. That means that a lot of the run prevention burden is falling on Toronto's defense, and this is a team that plays Chris Colabello in left field (hey, at least he's hitting).

Drew Hutchison might be the most talented guy on the staff right now, but it hasn't shown up in his ERA yet. Still, his decent strikeout and walk rates mean that he should be reliable going forward as long as his BABIP shrinks and his strand rate rises.

The existence of guys like Hutchison are why the Mets are having such trouble trading Dillon Gee and Jon Niese. Every team it seems has a pitcher or two who can be a mid-rotation starter if he gets the right breaks. On the surface, the Blue Jays with their dominant offense and middling pitching staff seem like a team that should be making offers to the Mets, but why should they when guys like Hutchison, Dickey, and Sanchez (when he returns) are so close to being the guys they need? The pitchers that the Mets want to move just aren't big enough difference makers to provide the return that fans want.

Date Time Television Blue Jays Probable Starter Mets Probable Starter
June 15, 2015 7:10 PM SNY Mark Buehrle Noah Syndergaard
June 16, 2015 7:10 PM SNY Scott Copeland Matt Harvey
June 17, 2015 7:07 PM SNY Drew Hutchison Jon Niese
June 18, 2015 7:07 PM SNY R.A. Dickey Bartolo Colon

The rest of the week's rotation is filled out by Dickey as well as rookie Scott Copeland, who is filling in for Sanchez and his lat injury. With the way Copeland is struggling to strike out batters at Triple-A Buffalo, it's kind of surprising to see him in this spot rather than Norris, but at least Copeland has his stuff under control. He rewarded the front office's faith by limiting Miami to one run in seven innings last week, and I'm sure he's hoping for an encore against the Mets. With Harvey on the mound, the Mets hopefully won't have to do too much damage to defeat Copeland on Tuesday.

The other games, especially those in Toronto, will be another story.

Prediction: Win those home games and grab a split.

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