Three Key Things: Youngsters from Buffalo pace series win over AL Central-leading Guardians

Toronto Blue Jays Addison Barger
Photo credit:© Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
Evan Stack
1 month ago
The Blue Jays have put themselves in the driver’s seat once again to hit .500 for the first time since April 29th after their series win against the Cleveland Guardians this weekend. Despite a dull Friday night loss and a near-blown lead on Sunday, this weekend provided a lot of excitement from some of Toronto’s youngest players. Here are my Three Key Things from this weekend’s happenings.

Batting order evolution with the Buffalo Boys

The Opening Day roster versus how it looks now is nowhere near the same. Players have been moved around the batting order, players have been released, and players have been called up. Among those called up, the potentially coined “Buffalo Boys” are starting to earn more playing time, and after how this series went, that is warranted.
Throughout the weekend, the combination of Davis Schneider, Spencer Horwitz, Ernie Clement, and Addison Barger combined to go 10-f0r-29 with six RBIs, two doubles, a stolen base, and four walks. Members of that group were sprinkled into Friday and Saturday’s lineup whether it was starting, pinch-hitting, or serving as a defensive substitution. On Sunday, however, their previous offensive production coupled with Bo Bichette’s calf injury earned all four of them a spot in Toronto’s batting order.
All of them have made Toronto’s offence better in their own ways, but seeing Barger come back up from the minors and instantly contribute is extremely encouraging. He was left out of the lineup with a lefty on the mound on Friday night, but he surpassed his hit total from his first stint in the big leagues between Saturday and Sunday’s games alone. Two of his three hits drove in a run, and two of them were also hit over 100 mph off the bat.
The always high-energy Clement was the primary source of offence on Friday night with a pair of doubles, Schneider drove him in once with an RBI single, and Horwitz has now gotten on base in each game since he was called back up to the majors. Horwitz has also shown no issues at second base, including kickstarting a nifty 4-3 double play during Sunday’s game.

Getting to Cleveland’s starters was the key

One of, if not the, biggest reasons that Cleveland is atop the AL Central is their elite bullpen. Entering the weekend, Cleveland had by far the best bullpen in the league in terms of ERA. Conversely, their starting pitching has not been as good, so one of the keys to Toronto’s success in this series was to jump on the starting pitching early and/or find a way to break their bullpen. Guardians manager Stephen Vogt knows this, obviously, and he wasn’t afraid to go to his bullpen at the first sign of trouble if it wasn’t too early.
Logan Allen tossed five good innings on Friday night, and a Schneider RBI single in the sixth inning was the first and only run he allowed on the night. Sure, he was at 84 pitches, but Vogt didn’t waste any time after Schneider’s hit to turn to his bullpen. It was the correct call, as five relievers combined for four innings of hitless baseball.
Toronto did an excellent job on Saturday afternoon collecting five runs in five innings against Carlos Carrasco. The Blue Jays tossed a shutout on their end, so whatever Cleveland’s relievers were doing didn’t really matter, but their bullpen still threw three scoreless innings nonetheless.
Finally, on Sunday, the Blue Jays scored against both Cleveland’s starter Ben Lively and their bullpen. A Clement home run was all Lively had allowed through his first four innings, but he walked the first two batters of the fifth inning with Vladimir Guerrero Jr. due up. Vogt removed Lively from the game and opted for righty Nick Sandlin. To Toronto’s credit, Sandlin would not record an out, allowing three hits, three earned runs, and two walks, including a grand slam from Daulton Varsho.  With a couple of those runs going to Lively, the Blue Jays became the first team to tag Lively with more than three earned runs in a start this season.

How did it go versus low fastball velo?

In all three games, Cleveland’s starters placed in the bottom 10th percentile in fastball velocity per Baseball Savant. With a minimum of 25 plate appearances, eight Blue Jays have a batting average less than .250 against a four-seam fastball, seven Blue Jays have a negative run value against that pitch, and three Blue Jays have a whiff percentage higher than 30% against it. Did dealing with lower fastball velocities help the Jays this weekend?
Logan Allen, Friday’s starter, averaged at 91.5 mph on his four-seamer. The Blue Jays swung at 22 of Allen’s 52 four-seam fastballs, six of which were whiffed at. All whiffs occurred against fastballs at the top of the zone, and Varsho and Schneider, two strong lowball hitters, each whiffed on two of those pitches.
He used it during two of his high-leverage situations; two on and one out versus Isiah Kiner-Falefa in the second inning, and in the sixth inning against Schneider. Kiner-Falefa swung at a 92 mph ball in on his hands, and Allen was able to generate an inning-ending double play. In Schneider’s case, he jumped on a low 91 mph fastball to drive in Clement, who had doubled on a fastball on the previous pitch.
Clement and Schneider were the only batters to get hits off of Allen, all of which were against his fastball. Conversely, the fastball ultimately decided 14 of Allen’s 15 outs (three strikeouts, eleven balls put in play). Clement and Schneider were the only ones to threaten Allen’s fastball, but he was comfortable enough to throw it effectively throughout his start.
Toronto was much better on Saturday against Carrasco’s fastball, which averaged out at 90.8 mph. The Blue Jays didn’t whiff at a single fastball, and four of their five runs were generated against that pitch. Crazy enough, Carrasco’s pitch mix was far more complex, so the Blue Jays did a nice job identifying and jumping on the fastball.
Although primarily working with his sinker, Ben Lively threw only 24 four-seam fastballs (89.7 average), and much like the day before, the Blue Jays didn’t whiff on a single one. The Blue Jays put it in play four times, hitting into two outs and hitting two singles. In a broader view, the Blue Jays still missed several opportunities to score runs against Lively early in the ball game. They loaded the bases with no one out in the first inning, as well as runners on first and second with no one out in the third inning. In both cases, Toronto was unable to score.

Check out these posts...