The Blue Jays (54-42) begin a lengthy homestand with a three-game series against the Mariners (48-47) over the weekend. The Jays have won three in a row, and are only 1.5 games back from the top spot in the American League East. While these two teams have not met yet this season, the Mariners won last season’s series 4-2. The first game will be on Friday night, as Marco Estrada will make his return from the DL to face James Paxton (7:07 PM ET). Saturday’s game will see RA Dickey go against Hisashi Iwakuma (1:07 PM ET). JA Happ gets Sunday’s finale, while the Mariners have yet to announce their starter (1:07 PM ET).
The Meeting on the Mound
The most anticipated game of the series will be on Friday night. Marco Estrada has dealt with back issues all season. This was most evident during his last start, in which he battled through 5.0 innings of work. After a couple of cortisone shots and three weeks of rest, it will be interesting to see how effective he is out of the gate. On the opposite side, James Paxton has had a frustrating season with the Mariners. He has allowed plenty of hard contact, but has been able to keep the ball in the park. His walks are down, his HR/9 is down, and his velocity is up. Unfortunately, his BABIP sits at .391, which at least partially explains his struggles this season. Even though Paxton has a slightly inflated ERA, this should not be viewed as an easy game.
On Saturday, RA Dickey will get the ball for the Jays. The knuckleballer has put together an impressive string of home starts, dating back to the beginning of June. His last start against Oakland had a poor result, but he actually looked decent for much of the game. It was one of the few times this year that a team was able to beat him with big home runs, rather than solo shots. That will be the focus on Saturday. The Mariners will counter with Hisashi Iwakuma. The veteran has had a disappointing campaign, and has has not resembled the same starter from three years ago. At this point, he will be valuable to the Mariners in an innings-eater role. With Iwakuma’s high home run totals and hard hit rate, the Jays should be able to knock him around at the Rogers Centre.
The finale will see JA Happ take the mound. The left-hander was on a roll against the Athletics, before he took a comebacker off of his throwing arm. The Jays cannot afford to have any of their starters go down with an injury at this point in the season. The main priority for Happ will be to get through the game without aggravating his arm. Beyond that, it would be a bonus to see him pitch deeper than just 6.0 innings. The Mariners have not announced their starter for Sunday’s game. At this point, it looks like it could be Wade LeBlanc. The former Buffalo Bison has made three strong starts since arriving on the west coast. Jays fans would be only too happy to see him get shelled, as it would make his trade a little easier to accept.
Players to Watch
It is hard to believe, but Josh Donaldson is in the midst of a better season than he had last year. The MVP candidate has been almost unstoppable in July. Furthermore, Donaldson was not hampered by the All-Star Break, as he has posted a line of .381/.458/.619 since returning. If the Jays can make the playoffs, then Donaldson would have to be among the frontrunners for the AL MVP. If he were to win, then Jays could add him to the Level of Excellence as early as next April, and nobody would argue. It has been a phenomenal season for the Bringer of Rain.
The Jays will want to jump on the Mariners as early as possible. The Mariners’ bullpen has posted impressive numbers this season. It speaks volumes to their depth that Steve Cishek has arguably been their fourth best reliever. With the Mariners’ ability to shorten games, the Jays will need to get to Paxton early on Friday, in an effort to use up as many of those arms as possible. If the Mariners starters are able to settle in, then the bullpen could play a significant role over the weekend.
Robinson Cano has performed like the player that the Mariners thought they signed back in 2014. The veteran has a line of .304/.358/.539 with 22 homers on the season. The home runs stand out, as Cano’s power had dipped since leaving the Bronx. His ISO is currently at .235, which is his best since his incredible 2012 season. The concern for the Jays is that Cano has been much better on the road than at home. While Cano’s performance might never be able to match his contract, he is still providing the Mariners with plenty of value this season.