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What we've learned so far from budding Blue Jays-Yankees rivalry

·5 min read
What we've learned so far from budding Blue Jays-Yankees rivalry

It hasn’t been an easy go of late for the Toronto Blue Jays, who have dropped four straight games for their longest losing streak since June 2021. And part of that skid has to do with how often they’ve squared up against the New York Yankees.

The Yankees are baseball’s best team through just over a month of the season, holding a 22-8 record and leading the American League East. The Blue Jays have played New York nine times and won just three of those games, booting them down to third place, six games back of the division lead.

Ultimately, there’s been more bad than good on Toronto’s end in these matchups, but it’s still worth analyzing the key takeaways from the Blue Jays-Yankees season series so far.

Blue Jays sluggers out-duelling Yankees on individual basis

When Vladimir Guerrero Jr. smoked three home runs — two off 2021 AL Cy Young finalist Gerrit Cole — on April 13, it looked like the Blue Jays initially held the upper hand on the Yankees in all aspects of the game, especially on offence.

The Blue Jays' stars have been holding their own against the Yankees.
The Blue Jays' stars have been holding their own against the Yankees.

That’s held partially true, as George Springer has clubbed three homers against New York, and Bo Bichette has chipped in with a few multi-hit games, giving Toronto’s core a narrow edge in OPS over the meat of the Yankees’ order during the season series. New York’s lesser stars, however, have attacked Jays pitching, with Gleyber Torres and DJ LeMahieu posting OPS percentages of .862 and .815, respectively.

Yankees starters have had a tough time with the top of the Jays order. After that, though, the lineup has been ice cold. Shining individual performances are great, but, unfortunately for Toronto, they haven’t translated into team success.

Toronto’s RISP woes much worse versus New York

As a group, the Blue Jays have struggled offensively this season, and frustration seemed to hit a new high during Wednesday’s loss, when Guerrero snapped a bat over his knee in self-disgust.

For a team as stacked on offence as the Blue Jays, it’s quite sobering that Toronto is the worst club in all of baseball at hitting with runners in scoring position. The Jays rank last in batting average (.181) and OPS (.561) in that condition, and those numbers get even worse when they play the Yankees.

In their nine games versus New York, the Blue Jays are slashing .109/.178/.172 with runners in scoring position. For comparison, Toronto has slashed .207/.293/.345 versus all other opponents in those same situations. Last season, Toronto found success rising to the occasion in big spots; this year the Jays have sunk lower when the stakes are raised, which is something the club needs to fix if it wants a chance at competing with top-calibre competition.

Blue Jays and Yankees games have been heated so far this season. (Photo by Cole Burston/Getty Images)
Blue Jays and Yankees games have been heated so far this season. (Photo by Cole Burston/Getty Images)

Blue Jays must match Yankees’ flawlessness late in games

With a 10-6 record in one-run games this year, the Blue Jays are no strangers to tight-wiring their way through tense moments. Against the Yankees, however, the need for perfection is amplified.

New York has the best bullpen in baseball in terms of wins above replacement (2.1) and win probability added (3.48). Jays hitters haven’t been immune to that effect, batting just .205 against Yankees relievers this season, with that average dropping to .150 in high-leverage situations.

The clutch hits haven’t come, and on the other hand, Toronto’s relief core has struggled to match the Yankees’ excellence. Blue Jays relievers have pitched to a 4.11 ERA and allowed four home runs to Yankees hitters this season. The numbers get astronomically worse in high leverage, where the Jays bullpen ERA elevates to 7.94, with New York slugging .636. 

Those are devastating splits on the Blue Jays’ side, and Jordan Romano’s ninth-inning debacle in Tuesday’s walk-off Yankees win effectively personified those ugly stats. The lack of timely hits is one thing, but if Toronto’s ‘pen doesn’t narrow the gap between its numbers and the Yankees’ numbers, the Jays could have a tough time holding onto leads and climbing atop of the AL East as the season wears on.

A rivalry is brewing

If you needed any evidence the Blue Jays and Yankees dislike each other, look no further than the sixth inning of Tuesday’s brouhaha in The Bronx.

After Giancarlo Stanton tied the game up with a three-run bomb, Blue Jays reliever Yimi García plunked Josh Donaldson on a heater running in, and the Yankees dugout lost it, with an outraged Aaron Judge hopping up to the top step.

The chaos grew once the umpiring crew convened and ejected García from the game. García was irate and charged towards crew chief Alfonso Márquez before being held back by coaches and teammates. The scuffle saw the ejections of García, along with pitching coach Pete Walker, and, eventually, manager Charlie Montoyo.

The umpires were allegedly on high alert in advance of the García hit-by-pitch, with Jays catcher Tyler Heineman admitting he and Donaldson “exchanged some words” before the confrontation, according to Rob Longley of the Toronto Sun.

There’s some understandable animosity between these two teams. Both clubs are expected to be powerhouses in the AL, and while the Yankees have owned the season series so far, seven of nine games have been decided by three runs or fewer.

The Blue Jays won’t see the Yankees again until June 17, but there’s a good chance these teams will meet again in the playoffs. And if they do, neither side will forget these testy moments from early in the season.

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