The Blue Jays (1-7) are not playing good baseball right now. That’s pretty obvious. An optimist would say that team isn’t quite as hopeless as their record might suggest, but they are in a deep funk. The good news is that the starting pitching and bullpen have largely been above board so far this season. The bad news is that the offence is collectively hitting .191 with a wRC+ of 58.
The Jays need to snap out of this in a hurry. While it’s still very early in the season, they now have a string of games against division rivals, in which they could lose considerable ground. This weekend’s series will see the Baltimore Orioles (5-2) in town for a four-game affair. Francisco Liriano will face Kevin Gausman in tonight’s opener (7:07 ET). Tomorrow will see Aaron Sanchez take on Wade Miley (7:07 ET). Marco Estrada will take the mound on Saturday, while the Orioles have yet to announce their starter (1:07 ET). With any luck, Ubaldo Jimenez will get that start. The finale will feature JA Happ against Dylan Bundy (1:07 ET).
Meeting On the Mound
The opening game might be the most interesting matchup of the series. Thanks to Jeremy Guthrie, Francisco Liriano has had only the second-worst start of the season. The Rays clobbered him in his first outing, as he only survived 0.1 innings, while giving up five earned runs. Fortunately, Liriano has had some good performances against the Orioles, the most recent of which was a 6.1 inning, scoreless game last September. On the other side, Kevin Gausman is off to a middling start. The Orioles’ best starter has two wins, but he is also sporting a 5.40 ERA. Gausman was effective against the Jays last week, though, limiting them to two runs over 5.1 innings.
The Jays will send their best starter to the mound on Friday night. Aaron Sanchez didn’t throw many innings during spring training, and he had to work through a blister. You wouldn’t know it, based on his 7.0 inning, one run outing against the Rays. The Jays’ offence will need as many quality innings as they can get from him. The Orioles will respond with Wade Miley. The left-hander has had one start this year, in which he held the Yankees scoreless over 5.0 innings. Don’t let that fool you, though. Miley has a history of being mediocre. He tends to struggle against right-handers, which should theoretically favour the Jays.
Saturday’s game could be interesting depending on who starts for the Orioles. The Jays will turn to Marco Estrada. The changeup specialist was perfectly fine in his first start of the season. However, he ran into trouble against the Rays. Estrada allowed three home runs over only 5.0 innings. It’s always dangerous to start a flyball pitcher against the Orioles. Estrada will need weaker contact on Saturday. As mentioned, the Orioles haven’t announced a starter yet. Let’s hope that it’s Ubaldo Jimenez, so that Estrada’s performance will be an afterthought.
The Jays face another difficult matchup for Sunday’s finale. JA Happ ran into his own long ball issues on Tuesday. Happ allowed two home runs over 4.2 innings. The lefty battled through that start, as his fastball location was spotty at best. The Jays will expect better from him moving forward. Happ will match up against Dylan Bundy. The Orioles have high hopes for their young right-hander. He has given them all the more reason over his first two starts of the season. Bundy held the Red Sox to three runs over 6.1 innings, and also limited the Jays to only one run over 7.0. Perhaps facing him for a second time will lead to better results.
Players to Watch
The entire offence is dead right now. There are reasons to worry about the likes of Russell Martin and Justin Smoak, but my biggest concern is Devon Travis. Have you watched him lately? As bad as Martin has been – and remember, he’s 1-for-21 on the season – I would argue that Travis has been worse. He looks completely overmatched at the plate, as if he hasn’t seen live pitching in months. To be fair, he really hasn’t seen all that much pitching. Remember that Travis missed most of spring training as he recovered from his knee surgery. Travis’ skill set doesn’t really lend itself to the leadoff role to begin with. When he is hitting well, he’s a perfect fit for the 5th spot. When he isn’t, and is instead among the absolute worst hitters in baseball, he should be taken out of the leadoff spot. I appreciate that this is based on a small sample size. That said, the offence is an absolute shambles right now. One move that could have an impact would be to replace the leadoff hitter who isn’t hitting.
The Orioles haven’t had the same offensive issues as the Jays. They’re being led by all-world slugger Chris Davis, who is off to a tremendous start to his season. The slugger has a line of .385/.448/.692 and a wRC+ of 230 over his first seven games. Davis can struggle at times against left-handers, but has actually fared better against them than right-handers this season. Liriano and Happ will hope to change that trend.