The Jays enter LA to start a four game series and seven game road trip still looking for their first series win.
There’s no easy way around it. It is currently all bad news for the Blue Jays. Toronto is 3-12 and 7.5 games back of the Baltimore Orioles less than a month into the season. Now they head to LA to open up a four game set against the Los Angeles Angels who are 4-2 at home with the best player in baseball eager to continue his start to the season.
The Blue Jays are handing the ball to Matt Latos and Casey Lawrence for the first time this season thanks to injuries to Aaron Sanchez and J.A. Happ while Josh Donaldson continues to rehab his ailing calf. Let’s set up the series and dig for some optimism.
The Meetings on the Mound
Game 1: RH Matt Latos (season debut) vs. RH Alex Meyer (season debut)
Latos is a career 71-58 pitcher with a 3.60 ERA. Those are actually very strong numbers, but he hasn’t recorded a season with an ERA below 4.00 since 2014. Still, he’s the best option the Jays have and Latos will be thrilled to make the most of his start for a team in desperate need of a win. At just 29 years old Latos decided to stick with the Jays and hope for a shot as opposed to signing with a different team, and now that he has it he’ll try and make the most of it. In nine innings with the Bisons he’s given up seven hits and six walks but also struck out nine and allowed just one earned run.
He’s opposite Alex Meyer who is making his season debut as well and is just 1-3 with a 6.50 ERA in his two seasons in the bigs. The Jays have a real opportunity to wake up their bats against the inexperienced Meyer as long as Latos can get them deep into the game.
Game 2: RH Casey Lawrence (0-1, 13.50 ERA) vs. Tyler Skaggs (0-1, 5.19 ERA)
Lawrence gets the nod in Game 2 but don’t let his astronomical ERA fool you. He earned that in two innings of work despite John Gibbons saying he looked like he belonged. He’ll get a shot at redemption in Game 2 and luckily his counterpart is also struggling. Skaggs is just 0-1 on the season and has had trouble with the Jays in the past. In three appearances he’s given up 19 hits, 10 runs and watched the Jays hit .268 against him.
Game 3: RH Marcus Stroman (1-2, 4.05 ERA) vs. RH Jesse Chavez (1-2, 3.71 ERA)
These two pitchers may be evenly matched in their record, but the nod goes to Stroman when it comes to who has the better stuff. Stroman was lit up by his nemesis the Red Sox but has had two excellent starts outside of that debacle and will be itching to avenge his poor start on Sunday. Outside of a few misguided challenges Stroman has pitched well this season and gets to try and outduel old fan favorite Jesse Chavez. If you can’t detect the sarcasm just take a peek at the numbers in the two stints Chavez served with the Jays:
Toronto 2012: 9 Games, 21.1 Innings – 8.44 ERA, 6 Home Runs, 10 Walks
Toronto 2016: 39 Games, 41.1 Innings – 4.57 ERA, 9 Home Runs, 10 Walks
Chavez has improved as a pitcher, but not to the extent that the Jays need to worry. Toronto also knows his stuff and should be able to get to him early.
Game 4: LH Francisco Liriano (1-1), 5.11 ERA) vs. RH Ricky Nolasco (1-2, 4.76 ERA)
Liriano responded from a brutal first outing to post one of the best starts by a Jay this season. He’s always going to have issues with his command but as long as he throws strikes and keeps the ball down and away from the Angels’ best hitters he should be able to build off his last appearance. It also helps that he’s up against the 34 year old Nolasco. He’s made just five career appearances against the Jays but given up 22 hits, 10 runs, and allowed the Jays to hit .242 against him.
Players to Watch
Toronto: Jose Bautista. It feels unfair to continue to lump the expectations of a franchise on one player, but that’s certainly how it feels for the Jays right now. Joey Bats is hardly living up to his nickname with a .118 batting average, zero homeruns and a strikeout rate of 29%. After striking out in all four at bats against the Red Sox he’s now striking out more than the likes of Justin Smoak. Bautista is still collecting walks at an elite rate, but with a lack of hitting behind him it’s his bat that needs to start getting him on base. The good news is that it can only get better…right?
Los Angeles: Mike Trout. The Big Fish is at it again, man. Trout is on pace for another MVP season (although it’s still early, right Jays’ fans?) with a .333/.414/.650 slash for an OPS of 1.064. He also has four home runs already and those numbers are all better than his career averages. He’s also playing elite defence and is up to three stolen bags without being caught once. He’s simply the best player in baseball and the Jays are going to need to avoid him at all costs.
Toronto needs a series win, and now has to rely on two pitchers making their season debuts. They’re without their best player on offence and Kevin Pillar is swinging the hottest bat. It’s time to turn the season around and band together.