Series Preview: Toronto Blue Jays (24-33) @ San Francisco Giants (30-27)


May 29, 2013; Atlanta, GA, USA; Toronto Blue Jays right fielder Jose Bautista (19), right fielder Anthony Gose (8) and center fielder Colby Rasmus (28) celebrate a win against the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field. The Blue Jays won 3-0. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports
The Blue Jays feasted on the Giants when they rolled into the Rogers Centre, outscoring the World Champions 21-9. Mind you we were feasting on the Ryan Vogelsong‘s of the world so it was to be expected I guess. The Giants just can’t seem to find a rhythm this year and are settling into the middle of the pack in a seemingly wide open NL West. Their .269 team BA is 5th in baseball so this team can still rake…though it goes to show the state of hitting in MLB these days when .269 is considered a very good offensive team. The Giants have always seemed like a pitching rich team but the ERA of 4.21 is 20th in baseball. With Lincecum, Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner and Barry Zito they have the makings of a four all-star rotation. Lucky for the Blue Jays it would seem the starters are all having down years, save for Bumgarner and Zito. Cain has a 5.45 ERA and seems to be carrying over from the end of last season. Overuse for him and Lincecum? Perhaps…

If you look waaay down the team ERA listings, it’s hard not to notice the 29th place Blue Jays pretty much where they were at the end of April. Is it getting better? Well if Josh Johnson can return to his Marlins ace form, then yes it is. We have dug ourselves a hole that may be too deep to get out of. Imagine where we would be without the bullpen. The part of the team that many thought would be our Achilles heel has become a saviour of sorts. During the Padres series, for example, the bullpen threw 22 2/3 innings, giving up just one run on ten hits with eight walks and 16 strikeouts. That, dear sir, is getting it done. It is also allowing our offense to climb back into games. In April we were 28th in team BA and now we are a middle of the pack 16th. We do have the offence to win. When will the starting pitching settle in and give our beleaguered bullpen a rest?

Probable Pitchers:

Game 1: Josh Johnson (0-1, 6.86 ERA) vs. Tim Lincecum (3-5, 5.12 ERA)
Game 2: R.A. Dickey (4-7, 5.18 ERA) vs. Barry Zito (4-3, 3.88 ERA)

I will be the first to admit I was stoked about the Josh Johnson signing, regardless of the health risks involved. It seems the bandwagoners who crapped on this part of the trade are now singing their own praises (well my friends who crapped on it anyway). The fact that his injury was not a structural one (tricep tightness) alleviates my fears. All pitchers, as they grow older, need to change how they prepare for the game. Johnson is entering the slight decline phase of his career but even after his previous surgeries his arm is holding up. Have faith, dear reader. He may not be a complete gamer anymore. He may not flash a 96 MPH heater. He flashes smarts, and competitiveness and a desire to still be one of the best in the game. We are seeing his transformation from thrower to pitcher. It may take a start or two to get to where he wants to be but he will get there.

Tim Lincecum is in the same situation but for different reasons. He hasn’t fallen to serious injury and despite his max effort delivery has remained surprisingly durable…or has he? Last year Lincecum fell so far from grace that he was relegated to the bullpen for the playoffs. How does a 2-time Cy Young winner drop so quickly? It is a great mystery to many. In his last 10 starts he has given up 4 or more earned runs in 7 of them. His strikeouts are still there for the most part and he isn’t walking an absurdly large amount of opponents. He is giving up hits more often and his numbers this year are strangely similar to last year. His numbers in 2012: 5.18 ERA, .257 opp BA, 1.47 WHIP. His numbers this year? 5.12 ERA, .259 opp BA, 1.48 WHIP. That is almost a carbon copy. Is he in a mid-career funk like Barry Zito went through or is this who he has now become? Let’s let the season play out but I fear the next Cy Young in Giants land will not fall on Mr. Lincecum and a W may fall into the Jays lap this game.

R.A. Dickey is starting to become the bane of my existence. I keep wanting to say he is righting the ship. In his past five starts it breaks down like this: 2 earned in the first three then in the last two a pair of 6 earned given up. I know he is a gamer but if he is pitching through his neck and back issues then perhaps it’s time to give him a start off. Yes I know out depth is kind of taking a hit but I would rather see a Chad Jenkins toss this game than wonder if Dickey is ever going to be Dickey again. His last ten games has seen his K:BB sitting at about 2:1. This is nowhere near the Cy Young winner we grew to love. I am sure the Giants hitters are licking their chops right now.

Zito is truly the epitome of an enigma. he earned a $120M contract after starting his career as a stalwart in the Athletics rotation and now is bringing up the rear of the rotation in the final year of his contract. He has become a true pitcher but not the strikeout artist he once was. His GO/AO is .75 and his K/9 is around 5. Becoming an extreme flyball pitcher in a place like AT&T Park is dangerous but funnily enough, the worst starts Zito has had this year came on the road…including the 5 spot he gave up in Toronto. Will the Jays bats be able to handle Zito in the swirlwind of San Francisco. Yup. Does that mean we will win? Nope.

Projected Starting Lineups

Toronto Blue Jays

1. LF: Melky Cabrera
2. RF: Jose Bautista
3. 3B: Edwin Encarnacion
4. C: J.P. Arencibia
5. 1B: Adam Lind
6. CF: Colby Rasmus
7. 2B: Emilio Bonifacio
8. SS: Munenori Kawasaki
9. (insert starting pitcher here)

San Francisco Giants

1. CF: Gregor Blanco
2. 2B: Marco Scutaro
3. RF: Hunter Pence
4. C: Buster Posey
5. 1B: Brandon Belt
6. LF: Andres Torres
7. SS: Brandon Crawford
8. 3B: Joaquin Arias
9. (insert starting pitcher here)

The offence in San Fran runs through Buster Posey. Even after losing a full season to a horrific ankle injury, Posey has come back and been the player everyone expected: A leader, a natural. His line of .308/.391/.514 is right in line with his career slash lines (.313/.382/.505). A tremendous talent who at the end of his career is probably going to be in the talk for best catcher in the live ball era. He is so fun to watch and he is still only 26. His best years are to come. If there is one bat the Jays need to miss this series it is his.

All the focus lately has been on the resurgence of Jose Bautista after a horrid April. I, for one, am still amazed at EE, Edwin Encarnacion. Given his pedigree I thought last year would have been his penultimate year and would slide from there. His average is still a tad low but this man is game in the clutch (.327/.409/.6001.009 OPS with RISP). The man is getting it done no matter where he is batting. I just hope the yips he is bound to get covering third base while Lawrie is out doesn’t get into his head. He and Bautista must make opposing pitchers breathe a little more quickly.

Final Word

If we can get through both games with wins then we finish our road trip 4-3 which is pretty decent considering it was a west coaster. The big three at the top of the lineup are doing great things but lately we have seen someone become quite consistent and a definite threat at the plate: Colby Rasmus. Perhaps he is finally comfortable and giving into his talents. He is the X Factor this series. If he can keep raking at the rate of his past ten (.350 BA, 2 HR, 7 RBI) then he will be able to keep San Fran pitchers honest. If Dickey can pull off a great start and the bullpen keeps holding things down then there is a chance of a sweep here but I see a split in our future.