By: Nick Ashbourne
Canadian Baseball Network
In the history of professional baseball there has never been a game played on a piece of paper. Without exception, baseball is played on a diamond. That's always been both intuitive and non-negotiable. As a result, in perhaps the most rigorously-analyzed sport in existence unpredictability runs rampant.
The 2015 Toronto Blue Jays are a good example. At the beginning of the season they looked like a very ordinary squad, but when their offensive potential became apparent it was clear they could be special. The expectation began to shift, but the record did not as they lingered around .500 for months.
In late July the team remade their roster with the additions of Troy Tulowitzki and David Price among others. Suddenly, the Blue Jays caught fire and right now they are playing better than anyone would have imagined possible, even in light of the additions they made.
However, a team is never as good as they look when on a winning streak or as bad as they look on a losing streak. That applies to any sport and it is incontrovertible. The Blue Jays are not as good as they look right now, for no other reason than the fact they are not the best team of all time.
It is very easy to see the Blue Jays as an unstoppable juggernaut and the Yankees as a sputtering team in decline coming into this weekend's series. However, the Bronx Bombers remain dangerous and the two squads remain similar and a series loss is not out of the question.
So far this season the Blue Jays have had few problems with the Yankees, but the way the two teams are designed is actually advantageous for the visitors. In a nine-game span anything can happen and a 7-2 record makes it seem that the Blue Jays own the Yankees right now, but the matchup is a very tough one for a very simple reason: New York is built to stifle right-handed hitting.
For all the hoopla about the Blue Jays improved pitching in recent weeks the strength of this team remains its hitting, and more specifically its right-handed power. No team in the league has the same kind of pop from that side of plate and the quintet of Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, Russell Martin and Tulowitzki is downright devastating to opposing pitchers on most nights. However, if they are to be quieted, one way to do it is with a diet of slider-heavy right-handers.
The slider is the pitch that is generally most effective against same-handed hitters and the Yankees starters (four of whom are right-handed) throw them more than anyone in the game. Even with Michael Pineda down his rookie replacement Luis Severino is another slider-heavy righty. It's hard to tell whether the Yankees prioritize that type of pitcher or if it's just a coincidence, but it really doesn't matter. At the end of the day the team's rotation exploits right-handed hitters' most common weakness like no one else in the game.
It isn't just their pitchers that give the Yankees an advantage against right-handers, it's also their defence. The Blue Jays powerful core, especially Bautista and Encarnacion, loves to pull the ball, but doing so is hard against the Yankees.
At third base stand Chase Headley, a Gold Glover. Didi Gregorious one of the most athletic shortstops in the game is at short. Patrolling left field is another excellent glove man in Brett Gardner and if you should send a ball to the gap Jacoby Ellsbury resides in centre. Pulling the ball as a right-hander is a daunting proposition.
This is a case where the theory doesn't line up with the results on the field. The Yankees seem like the rare team that has the tools to quiet the best bats the Blue Jays have, but they haven't done it yet. There's no guarantee they ever will either during the teams' remaining 10 games or potentially in the playoffs.
On paper the Yankees are a troubling matchup for the Blue Jays. On the baseball diamond they've been doormats. Neither is guaranteed to predict future results, but for now it's comforting for the Blue Jays that the game is still played on the diamond.