Toronto opens a series against the KC Royals tonight with a look it didn’t plan.
The KC Royals and Toronto Blue Jays spent the winter on identical missions. Both teams worked hard to improve and, at least on paper, both succeeded. Unlike the Royals, however, the specific fruits of the Jays’ offseason labor have yet to be fully tested.
Simply put, Toronto is missing its top additions and isn’t the team it hoped to be as it prepares to open a three-game series with Kansas City at Kauffman Stadium tonight. Major injuries and a positive COVID-19 test have seen to that.
George Springer, the Blue Jays’ biggest offseason prize and a three-time All-Star and two-time Silver Slugger winner, hasn’t played. Signed in January to a six-year, $150 million contract to man right field, Springer landed on the Injured List Opening Day with a quad strain and won’t play against KC.
Kirby Yates, San Diego’s former star closer (elbow issues sidelined him last year, leading to the deal that sent Trevor Rosenthal from KC to the Padres), joined the Jays just days before Springer and seemed destined to close for his new club. But he underwent Tommy John surgery in March and won’t pitch this year.
Sandwiched between the Springer and Yates acquisitions was the signing of Tyler Chatwood, a serviceable starter for the Rockies and Cubs who Toronto moved to the bullpen. Chatwood hadn’t surrendered a run or a walk in three appearances before triceps inflammation forced him to the IL Friday.
Tuesday, the Jays announced outfielder Teoscar Hernandez tested positive for COVID-19. And Wednesday, Julian Merryweather, who’d been effective out of the bullpen (no runs and seven strikeouts in 4.1 innings over four games), went on the IL with an oblique issue.
Add all those developments to injuries to pitchers Nate Pearson and Thomas Hatch, and the Blue Jays have a look they hadn’t planned on.
Just how those roster holes have impacted the Jays is impossible to determine with precision, but they clearly haven’t helped. At 6-6, Toronto finds itself significantly depleted for the four game series it starts at The K tonight.
Its somewhat patchwork outfield of Lourdes Gurriel Jr. (left), Randal Grichuk (center) and Josh Palacios (right) have a homer and 14 RBIs between them (10 of the RBIs are Grichuk’s), certainly not the production it could be if power hitters Springer (174 homers in seven seasons, including 14 in 51 games last year and a high of 39 in 2019) and Hernandez (16 homers in 50 2020 games and an average of 24 from 2018-19) were in the lineup.
The Jays’ starting rotation hasn’t escaped injury—Robbie Ray just returned from the IL to join Hyun Jin Ryu, Steven Matz, Ross Stripling, and Tanner Roark; the five are a combined 3-4. The Blue Jays haven’t revealed who’ll start Thursday against Jakob Junis (0-0, 0.00), whose excellent recent start against Cleveland earned him another. Expect Toronto to throw Matz (2-0, 1.46) against Mike Minor (1-0, 4.50) Friday night, Ray (0-1, 3.60) against Brady Singer (0-2, 6.48) Saturday afternoon, and Ryu (1-1, 1.89) against Danny Duffy (2-0, 0.75) in Sunday afternoon’s series finale.
Without Yates, Toronto turned in part to Merryweather and Chatwood before their injuries and have used Tim Mayza (0-0, 0.00) and Tommy Malone (0-0, 1.50, one save) late in recent games.
Who will Toronto manager Charlie Montoyo choose to face the KC Royals?
Third year Blue Jay manager Charlie Montoyo, who’s 105-129 since taking over the club in 2019 and led his club to a playoff spot last season (Tampa Bay eliminated the Jays in the American League Wild Card Series), will select his batting order from these likely starters:
C: Danny Jansen (.091/.200/.136, 0HR, 0 RBI) or Alejandro Kirk (.063/.167/.250, 1 HR, 2RBI)
1B: Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (.390/.519/.585, 2 HR, 9 RBI)
2B: Marcus Semien: (.212/.281/.442, 4 HR, 6 RBI)
SS: Bo Bichette (.327/.358/.653, 4 HR, 10 RBI)
3B: Cavan Biggio (.179/.304/.385, 2 HR, 2 RBI)
LF: Lourdes Gurriel Jr. (.167/.211/.167, 0 HR, 1 RBI)
CF: Randal Grichuk (.310/.375/.476, 1 HR, 10 RBI)
RF: Josh Palacios: (.375/.500/.375, 0 HR 3 RBI)
DH: Rowdy Tellez (.121/.171/.212, 1 HR, 1 RBI)
Guerrero and Tellez could switch spots; they’ve done so a few times this season. Guerrero and Semien and Bichette are the present power threats—Bichette hit two homers, including a leadoff walk-off blast in the ninth to propel Toronto past New York Wednesday.
After Wednesday and before any of today’s games, Toronto, 6-6, was alone in second place in the AL East, three games behind Boston, while the Royals, 6-4, were in first place in the Central, a half-game ahead of Cleveland.
The KC Royals begin a four game home series with Toronto tonight at 7:10 p.m. CDT. Next in are the Tampa Bay Rays, who’ll face Kansas City three times starting Monday night before the Royals embark on a nine-game road trip.