Blue Jays series preview: High stakes in Oakland

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The Blue Jays have notoriously struggled on their west coast road trips. Call it their Tropicana Field away from Tropicana Field. They’ll begin a critical three-game set with the Oakland Athletics tonight, so put on the late-start coffee coffee.

Still 4.5 games back of the New York Yankees in the AL East, the Blue Jays are nearing somewhat of a tipping point with the trade deadline just ten days away. Mark Buehrle will kick off the series as Toronto looks to convince general manager Alex Anthopoulos that the club is deserving of a big addition, but the 43-51 A’s aren’t a pushover.

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Oakland has had some struggles against lefties, hence Buehrle and Doubront lining up, but the offense sits fifth in the MLB with 407 runs scored. The A’s sit in the middle of the pack when it comes to home runs, slugging percentage and batting average, but one way or another, they’ve gotten men across home plate. Their pitching has been impressive, too, with a team ERA of 3.35 ranking 6th in the league. Oakland pitchers also hold opponents to a .235 average, the second-lowest mark in the Majors.

Outfielder Josh Reddick and catcher Stephen Vogt have led the charge offensively, with Billy Butler and the familiar face of Ben Zobrist making their contributions. Former Blue Jay Brett Lawrie has opened up the season with a nice .280 average including eight long balls and 37 RBI. He’s remained relatively healthy, too, which is good to see. He’s been eaten up by 17 errors, however, which still pales in comparison to teammate Marcus Semien who has been charged with an astounding 28.

Pitching Matchups

Game 1: Tuesday, July 21st  –  10:05 ET
Mark Buehrle  (10-5, 3.34 ERA)
Kendall Graveman  (6-5, 3.38 ERA)

It’s a familiar face for the Blue Jays in the opener as they face Kendall Graveman, who went to Oakland as part of the Josh Donaldson deal. His last outing at Cleveland was rocky, but he pitched 7.0 scoreless innings in each of his two starts before that and has been very impressive since the start of June. He’ll face the grizzled vet in Buehrle, who hasn’t allowed more than two earned runs since the calendar turned to June and has quickly become the “ace” of this Blue Jays “rotation”.

Also on Jays Journal: The Donaldson deal in retrospect

Game 2: Wednesday, July 22nd  –  10:05 ET
Felix Doubront  (1-0, 4.50 ERA)
Sonny Gray  (10-4, 2.29 ERA)

Prince Felix puts his unbeaten record on the line in this instalment of David vs. Goliath. Doubront pitched well in his first start against the White Sox then poorly in his encore against the Royals, and we know his leash is extremely short. I do, however, look forward to him feeding Brett Lawrie curveballs. His opponent of Sonny Gray is one of the game’s best, but has looked oddly mortal in four of his last five starts. The other start was a complete game, two-hit shutout, but let’s focus on the other four, shall we?

Game 3: Thursday, July 23rd  –  4:35 ET
Drew Hutchison  (9-2, 5.19 ERA)
Scott Kazmir  (5-5, 2.38 ERA)

The dinnertime finale sees Hutchison put his horrendous road numbers on the line, but what better time to turn it around? The righty allowed two runs over six innings in his last start against Tampa Bay and didn’t run up much of a pitch count, so there’s no time like the present. He’ll be facing one of this deadline’s hottest trade targets in Scott Kazmir who has been lights out in July. His most recent start saw Kazmir pitch 8.1 innings strong, allowing just one run on five hits while striking out five.

Next: Bullpen update: Checking in on Miguel Castro

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