The Blue Jays (51-40) return from the All-Star Break with a trip to Oakland to start the second half of the season. The Athletics (38-51) are in the midst of another underwhelming season, which should cause them to be sellers at the trade deadline. The Jays have won seven of the last nine meetings between the two, dating back a full calendar year. The first game of the series goes Friday night, when Marcus Stroman faces off against Daniel Mengden (10:05 PM ET). The second game will be Saturday afternoon, and will see JA Happ up against Sonny Gray (4:05 PM ET). RA Dickey gets Sunday’s finale, opposite Kendall Graveman (4:05 PM ET).
The Meeting on the Mound
The Jays begin the series with Marcus Stroman on the bump. Although he struggled for nearly a month, he has shown steady improvements over his past three outings. It might not be safe to say that he is out of the woods just yet, but he is on the right track. The Athletics respond with Daniel Mengden (in place of Rich Hill). The youngster will make only his seventh start of the season. Mengden looked sharp in early June, but has suffered some setbacks in his past two outings. He strikes out his fair share of batters, but also allows plenty of walks. That should be a favourable matchup for the Jays.
The second game goes to RA Dickey. The knuckleballer has been in fine form for much of the year. Despite an ugly start to the season, he has excelled since May. Dickey has plenty of experience pitching against the Athletics, though that has been met with limited success. The A’s counter with Sonny Gray. Gray has been a shadow of his usual self this year. His BB/9 and HR/9 have increased significantly, while his K/9 has taken a slight dip. Right-handers have given him considerable trouble this season, which is good news for the Jays. Gray may be shopped at the trade deadline, as he could net the A’s an impressive return. Expect the Jays’ front office to be interested in his performance.
JA Happ will start the final game of the series. Over the past month, he has looked like his old self, as he has pitched a limited amount of innings due to high pitch counts. That hasn’t stopped him from delivering quality innings, though. Hopefully he he can begin to pitch a couple of innings deeper on a consistent basis.The A’s will respond with Kendall Graveman, one of the key pieces in the Josh Donaldson deal. Graveman has not been particularly impressive this season, as he walks too many and strikes out too few. Graveman has performed much better at home than on the road, which benefits the A’s this weekend. Even so, the Jays should have some success against him. It is possible that Hill will be given this start, but the A’s will want him to recover from his blister ahead of the trade deadline.
Players to Watch
Lost in the recent hot streaks from Josh Donaldson and Edwin Encarnacion, Kevin Pillar has been quietly effective over the past nine games. As such, the All-Star Break couldn’t have come at a worse time. Pillar is a notoriously streaky hitter, so it will be interesting to see whether he can sustain that production after four days off. At least the break gave him an opportunity to heal up after a rough couple of months in the field.
On the Athletics’ side, much has been made of Danny Valencia’s performance this season. He ended up as the odd man out in Toronto after last July’s whirlwind deadline. That has certainly benefited the A’s, as he has been a surprisingly effective hitter since arriving. While his production has cooled off slightly since the beginning of the season, he has still been able to sustain legitimately impressive numbers over an extended period.
It seems like all of the Athletics could potentially be on the trading block. While Hill and Gray are the most obvious candidates, Josh Reddick could also be moved. The Jays’ front office will have an excellent opportunity to have a look at him this weekend. Reddick’s season has been hampered by injuries, which has reduced his home run and RBI totals. Beyond that, though, his slash line looks better than it has in years. Reddick’s contract expires this season. As such, he shouldn’t cost too much by way of prospects (think of the Ben Revere deal, and subtract a year of control). It will be interesting to see how effective he is as a left-handed bat.