Toronto Blue Jays series preview: Atlanta Braves


The Toronto Blue Jays welcome the 6-3 Atlanta Braves to the Rogers Centre tonight for the first of a 3-game set.  After taking their first two series’ against the Yankees and Orioles, the Toronto Blue Jays dropped 3 of 4 to the Tampa Bay Rays earlier this week, and outside of one offensive outburst, looked overmatched against some quality right-handed pitching.

It won’t get any easier against the surprise Braves, either, as they will send Julio Teheran, Alex Wood and Shelby Miller to the mound this weekend.  The trio combines to boast a 4-0 record and have allowed just 8 earned runs across their 6 starts.

Toronto will look to find some balance offensively as the early-season excitement has finally cooled into the steady swing of regular season baseball.  The Blue Jays have fallen victim to boom-or-bust offensive outputs that hurt them in 2014, and the club will look to their top hitters to lead the way.  Both Jose Bautista and Russell Martin continue to struggle at the dish, hitting .152 and .042 respectively.

The Blue Jays will also be without shortstop Jose Reyes for this series, as he rests an injured oblique muscle.  The club hopes that a weekend off is all that Reyes needs, but the recently recalled Ryan Goins and Steve Tolleson will platoon at short in his absence.

Game 1:  Friday, April 17th  —  7:07 ET

TOR:  Drew Hutchison      ATL:  Julio Teheran

Hutchison grabs the ball for the third time as he looks to bring his 6.97 ERA under control.  After being named the surprise opening day starter following the injury to Marcus Stroman, Hutchison fared well in his first outing and picked up the victory.  His most recent outing against the Baltimore Orioles, however, saw him tagged with 7 earned runs over 4.1 innings.  He’ll need to do a better job of pounding the strike zone low, and avoid falling out of his rhythm in the middle innings.

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Across the diamond, the Braves counter with the talented 24-year old Julio Teheran.  He’s coming off back-to-back 6.0 inning outings with just one earned run in each, so the Blue Jays will be up against the wall early.  Teheran features a fastball that sits around 92-93 MPH, and he’ll use his slider against righties in most at-bats.

Game 2:  Saturday, April 18th  —  1:07 ET

TOR:  R.A. Dickey      ATL:  Alex Wood

The Braves will roll out another exciting 24-year old in the form of Alex Wood.  The lefty will cause John Gibbons to start Steve Tolleson at shortstop, but it could be a welcome sign for a lineup loaded with right-handed bats.  Wood owns a 3.86 ERA on the season and has allowed three walks in each of his outings in 2015.  While his fastball sits at a modest 88-91 MPH, he can take 10 MPH off to drop a nasty curveball that the Blue Jays hitters will need to be mindful of late in counts.

R.A. Dickey has been experiencing some control issues after a quality spring, allowing eight walks across his first two outings.  Dickey has allowed just seven hits, however, and lasted at least 6.0 innings in both starts.  As always, Dickey’s value does not come via a spectacular, shutdown start, but from carrying his team late into a ball game and giving them a chance to win.  If he can is able to keep his knuckleball near the zone he should fare well, as it has been showing impressive life so far in 2015.

Game 3:  Sunday, April 19th  —  1:07 ET

TOR:  Daniel Norris      ATL:  Shelby Miller

The final game of the series, and second matinee in a row. Daniel Norris has worked into the 6th inning in both of his starts, but he’ll look to get fully through it on Sunday.  He’s been impressive at times, but the key to him taking the next step will be stomping on the gas with two strikes.  Norris has nibbled around the zone, often leaving his pitches high due to not finishing his delivery.  With the heater and curveball he owns, there’s no need to tip-toe.

Atlanta sends their third straight 24-year old to the mound in Shelby Miller, who is coming off back-to-back 5.0 inning starts with a 0.90 ERA.  Miller will feature a fastball towards the mid-90’s that he can add diverse movement to, with a curveball that he has used just 11.4% of the time in 2015, according to FanGraphs.

Worth the price of admission:

The Devon Travis show.  When Travis came over from the Detroit Tigers in the Anthony Gose deal, he was generally viewed as a player with the potential to hit at the MLB level but only bringing an average glove, at best.  So far, that’s gone out the window.

Travis has wowed at second base, turning several unlikely double plays.  It’s with his bat, however, that Travis is really grabbing headlines.  Despite the star-studded top-5 that the Blue Jays possess, Travis has been the team’s top hitter with a .371 average, 2 home runs and 10 RBI already.  He’s used both sides of the field well, and with power, building some well-earned hype around Toronto’s dark horse candidate for AL Rookie of the Year.

Next: How does Pillar's play impact Michael Saunders?

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