Jays Journal Series Preview: April 11-13 vs. Seattle Mariners

After a draining series against the Angels that saw the Jays win on Friday, lose a heartbreaker in extra innings with a peculiar interference call on Saturday, and fail to support Jo-Jo Reyes’ stellar outing due to getting dominated by Jered Weaver on Sunday, our Jays continue their west coast trip to face the Mariners. It’s a perfect opportunity to pick up some momentum and for the Jays to look sweeping their first series of the season.

Joining me for the series preview is Harrison Crow, Lead Writer of FanSided’s great Mariners site Sodo Mojo and he’ll be adding everything on the Mariners after the jump. Here’s everything you need to know:

Toronto Blue Jays

2011 Regular Season Record: 5-4, T-2nd in A.L. East (1.0 GB)

Seattle Mariners

2011 Regular Season Record: 2-7, 4th in A.L. West (6.0 GB)

Pitching Matchups

April 11: Jesse Litsch vs. Felix Hernandez

Jared: In somewhat of a lopsided pitching matchup on paper, Litsch is certainly going to have to pitch his best against King Felix, the reigning AL Cy Young Award winner. Litsch pitched his first quality start since July 11, 2010 last Wednesday, when he allowed 3 earned runs in 6.1 innings of work and struck out 7 while walking 2. He managed to limit the damage in the 4th inning of that game when he was leaving pitches up in the zone, and it was a solid outing by Litsch otherwise. In 3 career starts against the Mariners, Litsch has never recorded a win and Mariners hitters have hit .362/.413/.449 off of him, but he has a respectable 3.94 ERA.

Harrison: King Felix Hernandez, the best pitcher in baseball. There isn’t a lot to look forward to as a Mariners fan. This is the one thing that gets us excited about baseball in Seattle. It’s hard not to just enjoy watching him pitch regardless of your team allegiances. He has grown beyond just trying to barrel fastballs by people and is such a complete pitcher now. It’s scary how smart he has grown. However, he really hasn’t yet shown to be on the top of his game just yet this year. But, what makes him so amazing though, is that he knows that. He uses all of his pitches, rather than just trying to relay on that fastball or power curve for a strike out, he induces weak contact. When Felix is on the mound we always have a chance.

April 12: Ricky Romero vs. Michael Pineda

J: Romero did pretty much everything he could do in his last start against the A’s, allowing just 4 hits and 1 earned run in 7.1 innings. He ended up having to settle for the no decision, after leaving the game with 1 out and a runner on 3rd for Jason Frasor, who eventually allowed that runner to score. Romero is sporting a tidy 1.32 ERA in 2 starts this season and has been throwing all of his pitches effectively for strikes. In 2 career starts at Safeco Field, Romero has a 3.55 ERA to go along with 8 strikeouts, and 14 hits in 12.2 innings. He also has a .298 batting average against at Safeco Field.

H: Pineda has yet to acquire a prestigious nick name such as “The King”. But he has the stuff to be a solid #2 behind Felix. Pineda has big time velocity and a very slick slider to go with it. The big question is what he does with his change-up and that is the key to his success. The change-up still has to be developed and because of that will be chased around by left handed hitters at times.

April 13: Kyle Drabek vs. Jason Vargas

J: Drabek impressed once again in his start against the Angels on Friday, throwing 6 innings and allowing just 1 earned run. He showed composure on the mound under pressure in the 5th inning, and pitched like a veteran after the Jays tied the game in the top half of the 6th. While Drabek did manage 5 strikeouts, he also issued 4 walks. Those 4 walks came in the first 3 innings, so he’ll really have to work on controlling the strike zone and keeping his pitch count down early in the game. In 1 career start against the Mariners, Drabek allowed 3 earned runs – including 2 home runs – in 5 innings, with one walk and one strikeout.

H: Jason Vargas, I said Thursday that he was an interesting guy simply because Safeco field is going to hold a lot of his flyballs and he can miss bats. But unfortunately his last start was hampered by his inability to throw his pitches for strikes. He left a lot of pitches up and out of the plate and because of that the Indians made him pay. Don’t confuse Vargas with anything more than a pitch-to-contact lefty that from time to time will get his bell rung.

Who’s Hot

Blue Jays: John McDonald

J: I never thought I would actually say this, but it’s exciting to do so: John McDonald is one of the hottest players on the Jays right now. He has appeared in each of the Jays last five games, and has hit safely in four of them, including 2 pinch hit appearances. Not traditionally known for his bat, McDonald has gone 6-for-13 (.462) at the plate with 3 walks, good for a .529 on-base percentage heading into tonight’s game with the Mariners.

Mariners: Ryan Langerhans

H: With a Mariners team such as ours it’s kind of hard to talk about “hot hitting”, but Ryan Langerhans so far has posted an wOBA of .355 and leads the team in home runs with a grand total of 2, while filling in for the gut busted Franklin Gutierrez out in center field. Langerhans most likely goes back to being a 4th out fielder once Gutierrez returns but so far he is the guy with the best hot streak.

Who’s Cold

Blue Jays: Juan Rivera

J: Walking around daily with a target on his back from Jays fans, Rivera’s lack of hustle, flailing at pitches out of the strike zone, and poor performance overall outside of a few walks has made him public enemy no.1 to the Jays fan base. In 9 games with the Jays this year, Rivera has limped to a .133/.257/.133 line, with 6 strikeouts and 5 walks. There was a recent article on bluejays.com with quotes from John Farrell saying that the team is committed to putting Rivera out there every day in order for him to find his power stroke, but with Corey Patterson recently being activated from the disabled list, and promising players like Eric Thames in the minor leagues, one has to wonder if Rivera’s time in Toronto is limited.

Mariners: The team

H: Pretty much the entire team. Only three players have a wOBA north of .300 and while there are eight guys that have line drive percentages over 20%. What does that mean? It means we are hitting the ball hard but right at people. We’ve gotten fairly unlucky so far this year. Something that the team is doing this year though is that we are getting on base by taking walks. This is a rather new trait for the Mariners organization, which is perpetually last in the leagues in this category. They still have guys such as Cust, Smoak, Olivo and Bradley that can all hit home runs and are dangerous hitters. It’s just a matter of everything coming together and I think it will. They may not score over 700 runs but they won’t continue to struggle much longer. There is a coming out party that’s in order.

Blue Jays:

The Jays, in essence, swapped center fielders, as they activated Corey Patterson from the 15-day DL in time for Monday’s game against the Mariners following his rehab stint with HiA Dunedin, and Rajai Davis, currently listed as day-to-day, re-aggravated his ankle injury yesterday afternoon.

15-day DL: RP Frank Francisco (right pectoral tightness and right biceps inflammation), SP Brandon Morrow (right elbow inflammation), OF Scott Podsednik (plantar fasciitis in left foot)

60-day DL: RP Jesse Carlson (left shoulder), RP Dustin McGowan (right rotator cuff)

Mariners:

15-day DL: RP David Aardsma (Torn hip labrum), CF Franklin Gutierrez (Stomach issues)

60-day DL: RP Shawn Kelley  (Right elbow surgery), C Adam Moore (Torn meniscus in his right knee),

Jared: Chone Figgins has obviously struggled at the plate in his first games with the Mariners this season. Regardless, has he looked better since moving back to third base, or is he becoming a concern for Mariners fans?

Harrison: I think because of how Chone started out he’s always going to be a concern. Mariner fans are just a jaded group of individuals. We just are and we tend to hold on to things far past needed (Need proof? Search how many times Ben Broussard’s name came up on twitter this weekend, ITS BEEN 5 YEARS! LET.IT.GO.).

Unfortunately for Chone, much like Bedard, I don’t think fans will ever forget the start in 2010. Because of that this slow start has been also been called “a concern” the problem with that is he has played above-average defense and hit the ball really well. The down side to that is when he hits the ball it seems to be at someone.

The strikeouts are much better than they were last year. Goodness he just looked like he wasn’t to make contact in certain situations it was awful. Either he was going to walk or he was going to strike out. This year he is taking bad pitches, working counts and making solid contact. They just aren’t falling yet. Eventually they’ll fall and people will have to be quiet…until he struggles again.

J: Canadian Erik Bedard has definitely looked different than the pitcher he was back in 2009. It’s only been 2 starts, but do you see him improving as a starter this season, or relinquishing his spot in the rotation to someone else?

H: I wouldn’t give up on him. He’s got a lot of rust and a lot of fans haven’t quiet gathered that yet. Bedard I imagine will get plenty of opportunities to prove that he can still pitch. He’s practical here for free and being that the Mariners aren’t going to compete much why not see what we have in him as an asset. While he’s looked and been hittable, he’s still struck out 9 and walked only 3 in a combined 9 innings this year. He’s missing bats and his curve ball (his main out pitch) has looked really good. I’m not worried about him just yet.

J: Outside of Brandon League, the Mariners haven’t really received good results from players they’ve received in trades recently. With Milton Bradley and Justin Smoak struggling again, what do Mariners fans think about these players?

H: I think there was some frustration with Smoak because he was advertised as “Mark Teixeira: The Second Coming” and he’s not. He’s still a really good first basemen. He just was really rushed in Texas’ system and now we have to be patient with him.

As to Milton Bradley, it’s clear, short of him killing someone, the Mariners won that trade. Carlos Silva was one of the least liked Mariner players within my recent memory. He stirred up a lot of drama and he just wasn’t very good. Bradley still has some upside and he could present an opportunity of to regain some lost production and value from the Bavasi-Silva deal.

In regards to the trades made by Jack Zduriencik, I think he’s made some killer deals. Cliff Lee was an awesome trade. The pieces we got back from Texas far out weigh what we gave up and we are still looking at the possibility of this year seeing the rewards of trading both Yuniesky Bentacourt and Jarrod Washburn, whom we received in return Dan Cortes and Mauricio Robles. Both pitches are arguable Top-20 talents within the organization and should be solid pieces going forward.

We’re still reaping the rewards of the David Aardsma/Fabian Williamson trade with Boston.

Overall the only trade that I really was left scratching my head was the Brandon Morrow-Brandon League-Johermyn Chavez trade. I think it’s a win-win deal now. But at the time I really didn’t care too much for it.

I think if anything Mariner fans are still bitter about losing out on some of the other talents while Bavasi was in charge (such as Shin-Soo Choo/Asdrubal Cabrera trades, MLB Draft Picks of 2006 and 2007, Chris Tilman/Adam Jones trade, etc…) Bavasi really messed up this organization from the farm system all the way up to the big league team and Jack Zduriencik has made some notable steps in the right direction.

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Harrison: What do you, and other Blue Jay fans, expect from Kyle Drabek this year?

Jared: Personally, I expect Drabek to hit a few bumps in the road over the course of his first Major League season, but I also expect him to really develop as a pitcher and cement himself in the Jays’ rotation for years to come. Jays fans have been treated to his first 2 starts already this season, where he has looked dominant, and if he can fine tune certain aspects of his repertoire, he could be downright nasty to face in the coming seasons. He has shown remarkable poise on the mound already this season and will need to work on throwing more strikes to cut down on his walks (especially early in the game), but overall Jays fans, as well as fans around baseball, should really enjoy watching this kid pitch.

H: Looking back on last off-season’s trade (The Morrow-League-Chavez deal) what are your thoughts?

J: At the time of the trade, I thought Alex Anthopoulos (Jays GM) had robbed the Mariners of Brandon Morrow for virtually nothing. League, who ate innings in the pen, cut down on his walks, and set a new career-high in K/9 in 2009, had somewhat fallen out of favor in Toronto and was deemed expendable. Many Jays fans had no clue who Johermyn Chavez was, and personally, as much as I liked the kid, it was well worth sending him the other way to get Morrow back.

After a year has passed, League turned out to be a very stable bullpen presence for the Mariners, and Chavez had an unbelievable season with HiA High Desert, hitting .315/.387/.577 with 32 home runs in 136 games, showing the kind of promise the Jays saw in him when they signed him as an international free agent. That being said though, I think any Jays fan will say they absolutely loved this trade and have thoroughly enjoyed seeing Morrow blossom exclusively as a starter. Having talked to Morrow personally, he has the clear makeup and the tools to become the ace of the Jays pitching staff. To me, that’s definitely worth giving up a reliever and a prospect from the low minors, even if he turns out to be a stud at the Major League level (which he could, he’s only 22).

H: The Jays are my pick for the Wild Card this year, is that too optimistic?

J: Many people would have said you were way too optimistic to make the Jays your wild card pick before the season started, but it’s a realistic possibility, though unlikely. With the Red Sox and Rays struggling out of the gate so far this season, that certainly has added fuel to the fire about the Jays’ potential in the AL East this season, but you really can’t count either of those teams out of the running at any point of the long season. Plus, the Yankees will always be the Yankees and the Orioles have definitely improved, so the Jays definitely have their work cut out for them this season.

That being said, the Jays have looked very good early on, and Brandon Morrow hasn’t even made a start for them yet. A lot of things would need to happen for the Jays to be contenders this year – like offense from Snider, Hill, and third base in general, combined with quality starting pitching from Morrow, Cecil and either Reyes/Litsch – but it’s an interesting scenario that, once we’re farther into the season, could be a possibility.

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Thanks to Harrison for joining me on this series preview, and feel free to check out his Mariners site Sodo Mojo!

-JM

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Tags: Brandon Morrow Jesse Litsch John McDonald Kyle Drabek Ricky Romero Seattle Mariners Toronto Blue Jays

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