Toronto Blue Jays (8-5) at Houston Astros (6-6)
Friday, April 22nd, 8:10 EST: Stripling vs Verlander (Sportsnet)
Saturday, April 23rd, 4:10 EST: Manoah vs Urquidy (Sportsnet)
Sunday, April 24th, 2:10 EST: Kikuchi vs Garcia (Sportsnet)
The Toronto Blue Jays come into Houston having won two straight series, the latter of which being on the road in Boston. The shaky start for their rotation has seemingly come to an end, as they’re finally getting the consistency and length they wanted from guys like Jose Berrios and Kevin Gausman.
The most encouraging aspect of the Jays through last week has been their resilience without Teoscar Hernandez and Danny Jansen in the lineup. Toronto has been without the Silver Slugger outfielder since the Yankees’ series a week ago but has still managed to find the win column. Varying contributions from some of the role players have gone towards that, such as some key hits from Raimel Tapia and Zack Collins. The Blue Jays challenging April schedule continues, as they look to play tough against yet another dangerous team.
Houston is playing .500 baseball. Starting pitchers Justin Verlander and Luis Garcia have gotten off to great starts while Jose Urquidy and Framber Valdez are still looking to stabilize. With many of their hitters off to cold starts, they’ve been carried offensively by rookie shortstop Jeremy Pena. The Dominican native has taken over for Carlos Correa and has hit the ground running, and may prove troublesome to Blue Jays pitching this weekend. Houston is looking to catch fire, and get firing on all cylinders for the first time this season.
Blue Jays to Watch
Zack Collins: I didn’t envision myself ever writing this, but look for Collins to continue his contributions to this powerful, Blue Jays offence. The catcher has been a pleasant surprise thus far and is proving to be the power, lefty bat the Jays were looking for early this season.
Yusei Kikuchi: The recent signee has been somewhat of a riddle thus far. After a short outing against the Yankees where he battled his control quite frequently, he went into Boston and was able to go five innings while giving up only three hits. Improved fastball command and a clean first couple of innings could go a long way for Yusei this weekend, as he will take the ball on Sunday.
Bo Bichette: The star shortstop has been the punching bag of the yearly early reactions and bad tweets. After a strong first series in Toronto, he cooled off significantly against both New York and Oakland. Over the last two days in Boston, Bo has gotten back into the groove of his swing, going 3 for 7 with a double. If the Blue Jays are going to keep the wins flowing, especially with Hernandez still on the shelf, Bo will need to maintain this form.
Astros to Watch
Justin Verlander: Verlander’s first starts since 2020 have been nothing short but fantastic. In typical Verlander fashion, he’s limited base hits and walks while striking out batters at a solid 10.4 K/9 over two starts. Having no-hit the Jays twice in his storied career, his start on Friday will be worth watching.
Jeremy Pena: As mentioned earlier in the preview, Pena is taking over for Carlos Correa as the Astros shortstop. Only through the first few weeks of the season, Pena has almost accumulated an entire WAR point, sitting at 0.9. His 182 OPS+ leads the Astros while providing solid defence at the keystone position.
What to Expect
This series is going to be a challenging one for the Blue Jays. Facing the Astros best two starters in Verlander and Garcia will be quite the hill to climb. However, the Astros aren’t lighting the world on fire offensively. I expect this to be a tight series, with a couple of big hits making the difference.
Blue Jays keep the games close and win the series 2-1