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SkyDome Bound: Phillies vs. Blue Jays Series Preview

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In need of some wins, the Phillies head to a stadium where nothing bad has ever happened to them

New York Yankees v Toronto Blue Jays
Rogers Centre: Only good memories here
Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Now that Aaron Nola has saved the season, we can breathe a little easier today. Still, if the Phillies really want to stay in playoff contention, they’ll need to start winning games at a less sporadic rate than they have over the past few weeks.

They’ll get an opportunity to increase their win total this weekend when they head on up to Canada to take on the Blue Jays. It’s hard to tell if a trip to Toronto bodes well or poorly for the Phillies chances. The Blue Jays are a bad team (that’s good), but the games are on the road (that’s bad), and they take place in a stadium which may bring up unpleasant memories for Phillies fans of a certain age (that’s bad).

The Last Time They Met

The Blue Jays visited Philadelphia in May and took two of three from the Phillies. It wasn’t an especially memorable series, but that seems appropriate since the Blue Jays aren’t an especially memorable team. For instance, without looking it up, can you tell me what members of the Blue Jays roster made the 2018 All-Star team?

Baltimore Orioles v Toronto Blue Jays
If you guessed Kendrys Morales, you’d be wrong!
Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

And Since Then?

Immediately after leaving Philadelphia, the Blue Jays went on a five-game losing streak that comfortably established them as non-contenders in the American League East. Like most years, the Blue Jays have served as spectators in the battle between the Yankees and Red Sox for division supremacy. They’re also 17.5 games removed from the second wild card spot, so if you’re a Jays fan, it seems safe to make alternate plans for October.

Phillies and Blue Jays: The Rivalry

As mentioned, Rogers Centre might conjure some bad memories for Phillies fans. Honestly, while the stadium hasn’t been friendly to the Phillies over the years, it hasn’t been a complete house of horrors either. The Phillies are 11-13 in games played in Toronto since interleague play began in 1997.

Phillies Pitching vs. Blue Jays Hitting

The Blue Jays have an odd lineup, in that none of their hitters are especially good, but none of their regulars are especially bad either. Ten Blue Jays have hit double digit home runs this season, but no Blue Jay has more than 20. Of their regulars, the lowest OPS is .664 (Devon Travis) and the highest is .824 (Justin Smoak). The result is an offense that ranks a middling eighth in the American League in runs scored, and that seems about right.

Toronto Blue Jays v New York Yankees
How good is your offense if Justin Smoak is your best hitter?
Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

The Phillies will counter this average lineup with Jake Arrieta, Nick Pivetta, and Vince Velasquez. Arrieta is coming off a strong start in which he was unfortunately outdueled by Jacob deGrom. He doesn’t have good career numbers in Toronto, recording a 6.04 ERA in four starts there, although his last appearance came in 2014.

Pivetta’s last start came against the Mets on Sunday’s ESPN-televised game, and he didn’t leave the national audience with a strong impression. He faced the Blue Jays back in May, and pitched decently, allowing two runs in five innings, while striking out seven. His strikeout numbers have been good all season. His problems come when he doesn’t miss opponents’ bats.

Velasquez hasn’t made it past the fourth inning in his three most recent starts. To be fair, his last start was abbreviated due to a lengthy rain delay, and he pitched well after the game resumed.

After blowing the save in Washington, there are major questions about Seranthony Dominguez now. It seems that he was (necessarily) overworked early in the season, and his stuff just isn’t there right now. Pat Neshek may unofficially be the new closer, although it seems just as likely that there will be no designated roles going forward.

Blue Jays Pitching vs. Phillies Hitting

The midseason trade acquisitions haven’t provided much of a boost to the Phillies’ offense. Asdrubal Cabrera has batted .198 since his arrival, and Wilson Ramos can’t seem to stay healthy. There is a chance that Ramos is healthy enough to serve as the designated hitter for at least some of the games this series.

If Ramos isn’t the DH, Rhys Hoskins likely will be, with Roman Quinn taking his place in the outfield. There has been talk that Quinn should gain more playing time in favor of the slumping Odubel Herrera. Maybe Herrera’s homer off of Max Scherzer on Thursday will be the spark he needed.

The Blue Jays’ starters for the series don’t appear too imposing, but it wouldn’t be the first time the Phils have struggled against less-than-stellar pitchers.

Friday’s starter is Ryan Borucki. The rookie may be wearing down because he’s having an awful month of August. His ERA for the month is 7.13, and he wasn’t able to complete the first inning of his last start.

Toronto Blue Jays v Kansas City Royals
Ryan Borucki may be wearing down
Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images

Next up is Aaron Sanchez. After the 2016 season, he was seen as a rising star, but his career has been derailed by injuries since then. Expect Sanchez to be rusty since this will be his first start after a stay on the 60-day disabled list.

The finale goes to veteran Marco Estrada. Estrada is generally considered to be an adequate innings eater. He’s not going to shut you down (knock on wood), but he probably will go at least five innings each time out. The Phillies have had success against him in the past; his career ERA against them is 5.45.

Would you like to guess who’s closing games for the Blue Jays these days? If you said Ken Giles, you’d be correct! After melting down in Houston, the Blue Jays traded for him, and gave him another shot to close out games. He’s been decent enough in the role, but is still prone to blowing up at times.

Boo This Man?

As this year marks the 25th anniversary of the 1993 World Series, it seems appropriate to discuss the greatest moment in Blue Jays history (and one of the worst in Phillies history). Of course, I’m talking about Joe Carter’s World Series-winning home run.

I’m kind of surprised that Carter’s home run isn’t often hailed as one of the greatest moments in baseball history, since (and I may be mistaken about this) I believe its the only time a World Series was ended by a home run. I assume this lack of attention is because it happened to a Canadian team. If the Yankees had won in that matter, Major League Baseball would have probably retired Carter’s number across baseball, and we’d hear Joe Buck talk about it every time he did a game, regardless of how relevant it was to the current broadcast.

As for Carter, he’d sometimes show up in Philadelphia, and while the fans would give him the obligatory boos, it never felt like true hatred. I’m pretty sure Jayson Werth and J.D. Drew were greeted in a much more hostile manner.

I think Phillies fans have always just plain respected Carter and what he was able to do. Most Phillies fans would consider Jim Fregosi and Mitch Williams to be the true villains of that World Series.

SkyDome!

When Rogers Centre first opened in 1989, it was called SkyDome. (The Blue Jays were very clear that it should be called SkyDome and never THE SkyDome.) At the time, it was viewed as the pinnacle of stadium design, and hailed as the “stadium of the future.” 29 years later, it can be seen as an odd cross between two eras.

SkyDome introduced concepts such as a retractable roof and in-stadium amenities and entertainment , including a hotel in which guests would occasionally put on “shows” for the fans in attendance. These ideas - the amenities, not the exhibitionism - have since been copied in many other stadiums. But SkyDome also had much in common with its predecessors from the ‘70s and ‘80s: It was cavernous, designed for multiple sports, and utilized a turf field.

Three years later, Camden Yards opened, and teams didn’t want to play in giant, multi-purpose stadiums anymore. They wanted smaller, retro-style stadiums that were designed for baseball only. Suddenly, SkyDome wasn’t the future anymore.

RogersCentre looks like it will continue to be the Blue Jays’ home for years to come, although the owners have been constantly pushing for renovations. It just goes to show how quickly the next big thing can become an outdated relic. It makes you wonder just how long it will be until the Phillies’ owners start grumbling that they need to upgrade Citizens Bank Park.

Prediction

I’m having trouble with a prediction for this series. On one hand, the Phillies have been very good about bouncing back from adversity, and Wednesday night was about as adverse as you can get. It seems that just when we start counting them out, they go on a strong run. On the other hand, these games are away, and they’ve been a poor road team all season.

The Phillies seem to have the pitching advantage. Maybe if they were facing the Jays’ lone 2018 All Star - which is J.A. Happ if you were still curious - I’d be more concerned, but the three starters they’ll face don’t appear too tough. Then again, the Phillies hitters don’t always take advantage of poor pitching (Jason Vargas, anyone?). I’m also worried that Pivetta and Velasquez are slowing down, and at least one of the two will get roughed up.

When in doubt, go optimistic. The Phillies win two out of three.

Podcast!

If you want to listen to an audio preview on your way home from work, check out this special “Hittin’ Season” preview, too!