May 4, 2014; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Toronto Blue Jays center fielder Colby Rasmus (right) receives congratulations from second baseman Brett Lawrie (13) first baseman Edwin Encarnacion (10) and designated hitter Juan Francisco (47) after he hits a grand slam home run in the second inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Series Preview: Toronto Blue Jays (14-17) @ Philadelphia Phillies (15-14)

It’s always a good thing to exit a series with a win. The Blue Jays have done that against the Red Sox, Royals and Pirates in their last three series. Unfortunately they dropped the first two games of those series. If the bullpen had been able to hold the leads left by the starters they could technically be 5-1 at this point in the road trip. The team strength of last season is a definite question mark going forward. With Sergio Santos taken out of the closers spot and the rest of the bullpen imploding before our eyes, there really is no closer until Casey Janssen comes back (if he comes back). Marcus Stroman has been brought up to fill the gap in the bullpen now that J.A. Happ has replaced the 60 day DL’d Brandon Morrow. Groomed as a starter is it possible he may get tested in the closer role at this point? Sounds like a plan to me.

Philly-wise it seems to be the opposite problem. Their bullpen is not the greatest but Jonathan Paplebon has been converting the saves when they have been placed in his hands. Overall the team ERA ranks 13th in the NL. If it wasn’t for their closer it might be worse. Their team Batting Average is third in the NL but it sits at .255 and is closer to the bottom of the league than the top (which the Rockies are running away with). Their window of opportunity to contend for an NL East title seems to have closed but you never know. If Ryan Howard can come back and Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins can find the fountain of youth for one more season they have a chance…albeit a slim one.

Probable Starting Pitchers

Game 1: J.A. Happ (0-0, 4.15 ERA) vs Kyle Kendrick (0-2, 3.52 ERA)

It was a circuitous route but Happ has finally landed in the rotation. We are all aware of how nasty his spring was but let’s be optimists and chalk that up to the bad back he had. He has a chance to solidify his spot in the rotation now that Brandon Morrow is gone until July with a finger strain…um ya I said it. Happ has never been a shut down type of starter but with the re-emergence of Drew Hutchison and with Dustin McGowan able to push past the 60 pitch limit he imposed on himself then we may finally have the makings of a decent rotation. Happ just needs to keep the Blue Jays in games and pitch like the number 5 pitcher he as supposed to be in the first place.

Kyle Kendrick has had a fairly up and down career. He has never been truly horrid but he has never really lived up to the potential that has been cast on him from rival scouts and executives. His issue seems to be simple. Righties have a tough time hitting off him but get some lefties on there and things could change in a hurry. His K:BB is average as is his WHIP and BAA against. Based simply on pedigree and time served in the majors I may have to hand this sucker to the Phils.

Game 2: Drew Hutchison (1-2, 3.82 ERA) vs Cole Hamels (0-2, 6.75 ERA)

Hutch has been solid but not spectacular. People tend to forget that he is only 23 and considering all he has been through he is looking at a decent part of a big league starting 5. He managed to get through 7 innings last time out and if not for an ill timed double given up for two runs in the 7th it would have been the prerequisite for a quality start. His 1.27 WHIP is tolerable and as long as he keeps showing strides through every start there is no reason to believe he won’t get better.

Cole Hamels is still considered one of the best pitchers you can face in the National League. He has made two starts since coming off the disabled list at the start of the season…one good and his last one not so good. In this, his 9th season, he has never made less than 28 starts in his first eight seasons and that was in his second season. All seasons after that he has made 31-33 starts. His workhorse nature has possibly left him susceptible to injury and could be the reason this was his first extended stay on the DL. He did have his start pushed back because of flu-like symptoms so hopefully he is a little weakened. If not it could be another long game for the Blue birds.

Probable Starting Lineups

Toronto Blue Jays

1. SS: Jose Reyes
2. LF: Melky Cabrera
3. RF: Jose Bautista
4. 1B: Edwin Encarnacion
5. C: Dioner Navarro
6. 3B: Brett Lawrie
7. CF: Colby Rasmus
8. 2B: Chris Getz

Philadelphia Phillies

1. CF: Tony Gwynn Jr.
2. SS: Jimmy Rollins
3. 2B: Chase Utley
4. 1B: Ryan Howard
5. RF: Marlon Byrd
6. LF: Domonic Brown
7. C: Carlos Ruiz
8. 3B: Cody Asche

Worth the Price of Admission: Colby Rasmus seems to be coming out of his season long funk. He is never going to be a contact hitter and will have his share of strikeouts but he is hitting .270 in his last 10 with 4 homers and 11 RBI. If he can keep up that pace, at least with the batting average and keep stroking the ball with authority he will cement himself for a great payday since he is coming up to his free agency time.

Worth the Price of a Stale Cheese Steak Sandwich: Domonic Brown cemented himself as a bona fide major leaguer with a breakout 2013 campaign…at least that is what appeared to happen. In his last ten games he is hitting a meager .225 with no homers and 1 RBI. he has struck out 9 times and walked 4 in that time and shows no signs of getting out of it thanks to a .612 OPS. A one season wonder perhaps?

Tags: Toronto Blue Jays

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