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Toronto Blue Jays Redux: Joba Joba Hey! Edition

The Yankees week didn’t start off the way they wanted it to last night in Minnesota, but regardless of their record on the field this week, things are looking up as Jorge Posada is set to return to the lineup on Thursday and Joba Chamberlain joins the starting rotation tonight (you mighta heard about that).

It was less than two weeks ago that Joe Girardi told Kim Jones “the process has started,” and Chamberlain still hasn’t thrown more than two innings in a major league game, but with some post-game work in the Camden Yards bullpen after his last appearance, Chamberlain got up to 55 pitches in his last outing and will thus be allowed to get up to 70 tosses tonight.

The big question isn’t really how well Chamberlain will pitch, but how deep into tonight’s game those 70 pitches will allow him to go. In terms of results, Joba’s brief track record (47 2/3 major league innings and 15 minor league starts) speaks for itself. In the majors he has posted a 1.32 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, 12.08 K/9, 3.21 BB/9 and held opponents to a .168/.249/.251 line. In the minors (including his three minor league relief outings) he’s posted a 2.45 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 13.75 K/9, 2.75 BB/9.

If there’s one flaw in his game at this early stage of his career, its his pitch-efficiency. The Yankees didn’t get Chamberlain over two innings prior to tonight in part because he used up all 35 of his allotted pitches in the first two innings of his first multi-inning stint and threw 40 of his allotted 45 in the first two innings of his next appearance. On the season, he’s averaging 17 pitches per inning, which would only get him through four frames tonight. In his three “extended” relief appearances in preparation for tonight’s start, Chamberlain threw 103 pitches in just 5 1/3 innings. At that rate (19.3 P/IP) he’d only get through 3 2/3 IP tonight.

That’s why Dan Giese is in the house tonight (he takes Scott “The Stranger” Patterson’s place on the roster). For all the excitement about Joba Chamberlain’s first major league start, this could be an even bigger night for Giese, as there’s a chance he might actually pitch more of tonight’s game than Joba will.

All of that said, Joba is where he should be. His performance tonight will be analyzed to death by everyone watching (myself included), but at least for tonight, the results are less important than the journey he’s making toward becoming the pitcher he should be. Don’t be misled. Tonight’s start is just another step on that journey. He won’t have reached the destination until the reigns come off and the artificially low pitch and innings limits are discarded. Despite the surprising speed with which Chamberlain’s gotten to this point, he still has a long way to go.

As for Joba’s opponent, the Blue Jays shouldn’t be too distracted by the hype seeing as they were the foil for Phil Hughes’ major league debut at Yankee Stadium about 13 months ago. The Yanks and Jays haven’t faced each other since the opening series of the season, also at the Stadium. The Jays lost two of those three by a total score of 9-7, then swept the jet-lagged Red Sox in Toronto, were swept by the A’s, swept the Rangers, then suffered through a 4-10 slump that lasted through the end of April. Along the way they got B.J. Ryan and Scott Rolen back from the DL and cut bait on Frank Thomas. They then kicked off May with a five-game winning streak, and return to the Bronx having gone 14-6 over their last 20 games despite having lost Vernon Wells to a broken wrist just before that stretch.

For all the hype surrounding the Yankees starting pitcher tonight, the Blue Jays show up with the stingiest pitching staff in baseball (3.56 R/G allowed). Led by Ryan, the lefty-heavy Toronto bullpen (already a nightmare for the Yankee lineup) has a 2.90 ERA thus far, the third best mark in baseball. The Jays’ starters have been quite simply the best in baseball to this point and are averaging more than 6 1/3 innings per start.

Put simply, the Toronto pitchers have dominated. The only reason the Blue Jays aren’t doing better overall is that they’re not scoring runs. Their 4.03 R/G on offense is the third worst in the AL, just barely beating out the pathetic Mariners.

Speaking of offense, the Yankees now have their R/G at home up to 5.0, which is the fourth best mark in the AL and is nearly a run better than their rate of scoring on the road. Here’s hoping the comforts of home get those bats going again tonight. Normally I’d be rooting for a riveting pitching duel between Chamberlain and Toronto ace Roy Halladay, but, as good as Giese has been since making a quicker conversion to starting in Scranton this spring (2.01 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, 7.38 K/9, 2.18 BB/9, 2 homers in 10 starts), I’d rather see both rookie hurlers pitch with a nice comfy lead.

Toronto Blue Jays

2008 Record: 31-28 (.525)
2008 Pythagorean Record: 33-26 (.562)

Manager: John Gibbons
General Manager: J.P. Ricciardi

Home Ballpark (multi-year Park Factors): Rogers Centre (100/99)

Who’s Replaced Whom:

Scott Rolen (DL) has reclaimed third base from Marco Scutaro
John McDonald has taken Rolen’s place on the DL
Brad Wilkerson replaces Vernon Wells (DL)
Shannon Stewart replaces Frank Thomas in the lineup
Kevin Mench replaces Shannon Stewart on the bench
Rod Barajas is filling in for Gregg Zaun (DL) at catcher
Curtis Thigpen (minors) is filling in for Zaun on the roster
Joe Inglett (minors) replaces Buck Coats (minors)
B.J. Ryan (DL) replaces Jeremy Accardo (DL)
Jesse Carlson (minors) replaces Brian Wolfe (DL)
Armando Benitez replaces Brandon League (minors)
Shawn Camp replaces Randy Wells

Opening Day Roster:

1B – Lyle Overbay (L)
2B – Aaron Hill (R)
SS – David Eckstein (R)
3B – Scott Rolen (R)
C – Rod Barajas (R)
RF – Brad Wilkerson (R)
CF – Alex Rios (R)
LF – Shannon Stewart (R)
DH – Matt Stairs (L)


R – Marco Scutaro (IF)
R – Kevin Mench (OF)
L – Joe Inglett (IF)
R – Curtis Thigpen (C)


R – Roy Halladay
R – Jesse Litsch
R – Dustin McGowan
R – Shaun Marcum
R – A.J. Burnett


L – B.J. Ryan
L – Scott Downs
L – Brian Tallet
R – Jason Frasor
L – Jesse Carlson
R – Shawn Camp
R – Armando Benitez

15-day DL: R – Vernon Wells (CF), S – Gregg Zaun (C), R – John McDonald (IF), R – Jeremy Accardo, R – Brian Wolfe
60-day DL: R – Casey Janssen

Likely Lineup:

R – Shannon Stewart (LF)
R – Aaron Hill (2B)
R – Alex Rios (CF)
R – Scott Rolen (3B)
L – Matt Stairs (DH)
L – Lyle Overbay (1B)
R – Rod Barajas (C)
L – Brad Wilkerson (RF)
R – David Eckstein (SS)

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver