Series Preview: Toronto Blue Jays (11-21) @ Tampa Bay Rays (14-16)
Apr 3, 2013; Toronto, ON, Canada; Toronto Blue Jays pitcher R.A. Dickey (43) and pitcher J.A. Happ (48) and pitcher Mark Buehrle (56) and pitcher Josh Johnson (55) look on from the top step of the dugout against the Cleveland Indians at Rogers Centre. The Indians beat the Blue Jays 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports
We are definitely starting to see a pattern in how the Toronto Blue Jays go about their business. After huge wins to salvage the final game in whatever series (Boston, New York, Cleveland, Seattle for e.g.) the optimist starts to peek out from behind his glasses and proudly says that the last game was a perfect springboard to hopefully go on a winning streak and crawl out of the large basin of sloppy baseball that was so predominant this year.
This time around we hope to build off of perhaps our most complete game of the season: Timely hits, great pitching (though each pitcher seems to still have “the inning”) and the defense seems to have started to pick itself up off the trash heap. Can we keep it going? Well I hope so, though we are facing our dreaded nemesis, the Rays.
Mind you our dreaded nemesis seems to be going through the same rough patch of pitching and timely hitting and thus are also the only other team in the East with a losing record. James Loney has been leading the charge lately at the plate (Over his last 17 games played he has hit .528 (28-for-53)) This has raised his average to .398…yes I know…THAT James Loney. The pitching always seems to give Toronto fits, especially at Tropicana Field. The game matches up Tampa Bay’s No. 9 ranked American League offense (4.4 runs per game) against a Blue Jays defense and pitching staff that sits at No. 13 in the American League at 5.1 runs allowed per game.
Game 1: Mark Buehrle (1-2, 6.43 ERA) vs Jeremy Hellickson (1-2, 4.71 ERA)
Game 2: J.A. Happ (2-2, 3.98 ERA) vs Roberto Hernandez (1-4, 5.28 ERA)
Game 3: Ricky Romero (0-1, 6.75 ERA vs Matt Moore (5-0, 1.95 ERA)
Game 4: R.A. Dickey (2-5, 5.36 ERA) vs David Price (1-3, 6.25 ERA)
Game 1 should provide a boatload of offence considering the struggles of both Buehrle and Hellickson (who is 3-2 with a 2.89 ERA in six career starts against Toronto). After allowing four runs on nine hits in his last start he is looking to start their 10 game homestand with a win. Buehrle…well he has to stop lofting up tater bombs every game. 3 homers given up in each of the last two games is kind of a lot, even by Buehrle standards. Even if we don’t score first, Tampa has given up the lead in 11 of their 16 losses. This is definitely a Rays team still searching for who they are this season.
Game 2 features our most consistent starter against a man trying to find his own identity (after having to give up his false one…right Fausto?). If Happ can keep the walks to a minimum (SEVEN last game), he has as good a shot at this average offensive team. Since Fausto became Roberto it has not been smooth sailing for the 33 year old (we think 33). He has one quality start out of his last five and seems to have become just a mediocre rotation filler. He does have strikeout capability (30 Ks in 30.2 innings) but will it be enough?
Game 3 should be intriguing for two reasons. First off, Romero did ok in his first outing since changing his pitching mechanics. He had a sweet 1st time through Seattle’s lineup setting them all down through 3 innings but he ran into hit troubles in the 4th. If he can build off the first three innings then we may have a chance. If he can’t, this could be the game where you hide your hands over your eyes. Matt Moore has followed in the footstep of many Rays pitchers and is dominating the league in the early going. In 2012 he displayed flashes of his greatness and this season has put it all together. All-Star games and votes for the Cy Young await him if he continues to baffle hitters (41K in 37 innings and a 1.05 WHIP)
Finally Game 4 is a test of both staff aces. Dickey and Price are struggling. Dickey claims his injury is minor and perhaps it is. Unfortunately it seems to be affecting the way he pitches. He gave up a trio of home runs in the Seattle series. He also has a paltry 2-1 K:BB Ratio and I am starting to wonder if a DL stint would help. Let’s see how his knuckler dances under the Trop Dome. Aside from a public feud with umpire Tom Hallion, Price has not been his usual dominant self. His last start against the Rockies he gave up 9 runs for the first time in 4 years. His velocity is down as well so I wonder…arm trouble? This could be a great chance to lay a beating on the man.
The following are the probable line-ups for both squads:
Toronto Blue Jays:
1. 3B: Brett Lawrie
2. DH: Adam Lind
3. RF: Jose Bautista
4. 1B: Edwin Encarnacion
5. LF: Melky Cabrera
6. C: J.P. Arencibia
7. CF: Colby Rasmus
8. 2B: Maicer Izturis
9. SS: Munenori Kawasaki
Tampa Bay Rays:
1. CF: Desmond Jennings
2. RF: Matt Joyce
3. 2B: Ben Zobrist
4. 3B: Evan Longoria
5. 1B: James Loney
6. SS: Yunel Escobar
7. DH: Luke Scott
8. LF: Kelly Johnson
9. C: Jose Molina
We all know that both teams are struggling. This may be the best chance the Blue Jays have to salvage their season. If they can take 3 of 4 we are still in it. If we lose 3 of 4 we will be buried in the basement and all the percentages and hope wouldn’t seem to matter. If we want to get the proverbial monkey off our backs then we need to beat this Rays team. They are staggered in ways they never have before. Their offense was always suspect but the pitching held them and guided them over the years. This year it is a different story. Let’s hope we write a better ending.
The Final Word
The Blue Jays look lost from one game to the next, occasionally throwing a bone to the fans like Sunday’s slugging of the Mariners. Flashes of our potential is there. Don’t take Brandon Morrow going 8 innings yesterday as something to take lightly. It gave us a chance to rest some arms in the pen. If we can get through a couple turns through the rotation with quality starts, going deeper into games, then we might have a shot at redemption. The sun is out, the sky is blue, it’s beautiful and so are you…dear Blue Jays. Won’t you (finally) come out to play?