Jun 7, 2014; Baltimore, MD, USA; Baltimore Orioles right fielder Nelson Cruz (23) doubles in the seventh inning against the Oakland Athletics at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. The Orioles defeated the Athletics 6-3. Mandatory Credit: Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports

Series Preview: Blue Jays Looking to Wake Up Bats in Baltimore

So there was this really great May where the Blue Jays pounded the horsehide off the baseball. A whole month of offensive loveliness. Now? They have been shut out 4 times in their last seven games: 2 against the Cardinals and 2 more in the series loss to…the Twins?? Wow. The Central US states are pitching the heck out of us.

Marcus Stroman showed some guile keeping his team in the game as he battled through 6 innings. He is proving again that he truly does deserve the chance he has been given. If he keeps this up he may have to join my fantasy team.

Now the true test starts, as the Blue Jays embark on a 9-game road trip that starts with seven games against the two teams that currently share second place in the American League East, the Baltimore Orioles (4 games) and the New York Yankees (3 games). With just 4.5 games separating the Jays from the rest of the pack in the AL East, these seven games are an early test to the stability of their playoff hopes. How they come through this stretch will give us a good idea of whether they have staying power or will burn out and fade away.

The first step is a four-game set with the Baltimore Orioles. The Blue Jays have already seen the Orioles six times in 2014, and they’ve managed to split the season series thus far and have outscored Baltimore 35-29 in the process. Both teams are actually fashioned quite similarly, with both teams capable of putting runs on the board at ease and making up for pitching staffs that are mediocre at best.

Probable Starting Pitchers

Game 1: Mark Buehrle (10-2, 2.04 ERA) vs Kevin Gausman (1-1, 4.91 ERA)

Mark Buehrle has been on an unbelievable roll of late, but he was due for a loss and unfortunately took the hard-luck defeat his last time out, throwing 7 innings of 5-hit ball and only giving up a single run. However, he also got away with walking a season-high five hitters on the afternoon, but managed to pitch around it. Unfortunately, his offense was shut-out on the afternoon and that one mistake was enough to get shackled with the loss.

Buehrle held the Orioles in check when last he met Baltimore on April 13th, throwing an efficient 7 innings, walking none and allowing 1 run on five hits in a win.

He’ll be opposed by prospect Kevin Gausman. The flame-throwing right-hander is making just his third start of the 2014 season and comes into the game with a 1-1 record, a 4.91 ERA, and 6.5 K/9 ratio. But don’t let the numbers fool you, Gausman is the real deal and is coming off of a great start against the Oakland Athletics where he went 7 deep and struck out six while amassing a game score of 70.

Game 2: Drew Hutchison (4-4, 3.96 ERA) vs Ubaldo Jimenez (2-7, 5.01 ERA)

While there was a lot of chirping about the Blue Jays missing out on Ubaldo Jimenez this winter, one has to sit back now and be thankful that the Blue Jays dodged an albatross there. The right-hander has been frustrating to say the least, leading the league with 40 walks in his first 70 innings of work and sports a career-high HR/FB rate of 12.9% as of this writing.

The home run ball was what did him in during his first match-up with the Blue Jays this season, when the Jays notched two of them on the way to hanging Jimenez with 10 hits and 5 earned runs over 5.1 innings of work on April 13th. He’s also coming off of his worst start of the season, a 2.1 inning outing against the Athletics where he allowed 6 earned runs on 5 walks and just 2 hits.

The Jays will send Drew Hutchison to the mound, who is just happy to be heading out on the road again. Hutch’s sports a beautiful 3-1 record, a 2.03 ERA, and a 0.956 WHIP away from Rogers Centre, but a very rough 1-3, 8.72, and 1.892 mark in front of the home fans. One of those great road starts came against the Orioles on April 12th, when he threw 6 innings of shut-out ball in a no-decision.

Game 3: R.A. Dickey (6-4, 4.20 ERA) vs Bud Norris (5-5, 3.94 ERA)

Dickey’s numbers may look respectable, but they are a mirage created by some solid relief work to bail him out of some tough situations. The Blue Jays “ace” is coming off three consecutive starts where he has failed to get through the sixth inning, posting a 1-0 record with a 5.28 ERA, and working just 15.1 innings in the process.

He’s drawn Baltimore just once this season, going 6 innings and allowing 3 earned runs on 6 hits and 3 walks on April 22nd in the dome. The Blue Jays are hoping that he can find himself quickly, as his short stints are starting to tax the bullpen immensely.

He’ll be opposed by Bud Norris, who has looked good in two starts against the Jays in 2014. He’s thrown a combined 13 innings against Toronto in those two outings, allowing 3 runs on 10 hits and 4 walks, while striking out 8. He’s also coming off of his best start of the season, shutting out the Boston Red Sox over 8 innings on Monday night.

Probable Starting Lineups

Baltimore Orioles

1. RF: Nick Markakis
2. LF: Steve Pearce
3. CF: Adam Jones
4. DH: Nelson Cruz
5. 1B: Chris Davis
6. SS: J.J. Hardy
7. 3B: Manny Machado
8. 2B: Jonathan Schoop
9. C: Nick Hundley

Toronto Blue Jays

1. SS: Jose Reyes
2. LF: Melky Cabrera
3. RF: Jose Bautista
4. DH: Edwin Encarnacion
5. 1B: Adam Lind
6. 2B: Brett Lawrie
7. 3B: Juan Francisco
8. C: Dioner Navarro / Josh Thole
9. CF: Anthony Gose

Worth the Price of Admission: Although Chris Davis gets a lot of hype for how he’s manhandled the Blue Jays over the last few years, it is Cruz that has made him an afterthought in this series. The Orioles DH has turned into a huge bargain for Baltimore, leading all of baseball in home runs (21) and RBI (55). He’s done a lot of that damage against Toronto, hitting 3 home runs and driving in 10 while slashing .381/.458/.905 against the Blue Jays in 5 games this season.

Worth the Price of a Pat Tabler‘s obscenity delay button: Manny Machado’s antics earlier this weak put a big damper on the impression many had of him as a player and may cost him some games in this series, depending on when his suspension is enforced. The former stud has turned into a pariah in a matter of days, and the Orioles have actually kicked around the idea of demoting him to improve both his attitude and his slow start.

Tags: Toronto Blue Jays

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