Don’t look now, but the Blue Jays’ season might not be over! The Jays (17-21) have won five in a row, and eight of their last 10. The win streak could continue for a few more days, as they are set to face the Braves (13-21) in a four-game home and away series.
The Meeting on the Mound
Monday’s game (7:07 PM) will see a contrast of the new and the old. The Jays will turn to Mike Bolsinger, who continues to pitch in place of J.A. Happ. Bolsinger pitched well in his Blue Jays’ debut against Cleveland, as he allowed two runs over 5.2 innings. With Aaron Sanchez back in the rotation, and Joe Biagini performing well as a starter, this will likely be Bolsinger’s last start for the foreseeable future. Perhaps he can transition directly into the bullpen after tonight. On the other side, the Braves are hoping that Bartolo Colon can turn his season around. Big Sexy has been terrible so far this year. The veteran has an ERA of 7.22 over 38.2 innings. Colon is walking too many and allowing lots of home runs. That’s a bad combination for the Rogers Centre, where Colon has a career ERA of 5.03 over 78.2 innings.
The Jays will turn to Marco Estrada for Tuesday’s game (4:07 PM). Estrada is coming off a game against the Mariners in which he had to grind through a few innings, but still kept things under control. Estrada has yet to pitch more than 7.0 innings in a game this season. With the way the bullpen has been worked lately, combined with Bolsinger starting Monday ahead of a quick turnaround for Tuesday, the Jays might need a deeper outing this time. On the other side, Jaime Garcia will pitch for the Braves. The former Cardinal is off to a shaky start in Atlanta. After a string of solid performances to close out April, Garcia was hit around by the Astros in his last outing. He currently has a BB/9 of 4.58. The Jays will need to be patient in their approach against him.
The series will shift to Atlanta on Wednesday (7:35 PM). Biagini will get his third start for the Jays. His transition to the rotation has been excellent so far. Biagini has yet to allow an earned run in 9.0 innings as a starter. The Jays stretched him out to 68 pitches in his last start. He will likely be somewhere in the 80-range this time out. The Braves will have Mike Foltynewicz on the mound. The young right-hander has given the Braves reason to be excited about his future. Although his ERA sits at 4.04, that is largely influenced by one bad outing against the Cardinals. Apart from that, Foltynewicz has been consistently solid for Atlanta this season.
The series’ best pitching matchup will be featured in Thursday’s finale (7:35 PM). Marcus Stroman will get the start for the Jays. His injury concerns appear to be behind him, as he has allowed only two runs over his previous 12.0 innings. Stroman was a strikeout machine on Saturday, as he picked up nine over 6.0 innings. The Jays will hope that he can extend himself deeper into the game on Thursday. The Braves will counter with Julio Teheran. The diamond of their rotation, Teheran has not exactly shone this year. Like Garcia, he has an incredibly high walk rate, at 4.27. This has led to an ERA of 4.08. Teheran has struggled over the past month, although he did shut out the Marlins over 6.0 innings on the weekend.
Players to Watch
Like the Blue Jays as a whole, Jose Bautista has started to see his season turn around. As has been well-documented, the slugger started the year in a serious slump. But good hitters don’t fall off like that and stay bad forever. Over the past five games, Bautista is hitting .250/.429/.875 with a wRC+ of 239. Obviously five games is too small a sample to base any conclusions on. However, he has shown a better approach at the plate, and he is barrelling the ball more frequently. Bautista isn’t going to hit a homer every other game from here on out, but he also won’t hit for a wRC+ of 57, as he had prior to last week.
The Jays are in line for a serious shot in the arm over the coming weeks. The team has three significant contributors on the disabled list. Troy Tulowitzki should be the first to return. Tulo has been sent on a rehab assignment to Dunedin. The plan is for him to join the team in Atlanta for the last two games of the series. Ryan Goins and Darwin Barney have filled in admirably in Tulowitzki’s absence, but they cannot replace the value that the borderline Hall of Famer provides. Later in the week, possibly as early as Thursday’s finale, Russell Martin is also set to return. Luke Maile has provided solid defence, especially compared to his predecessor, but he has been close to an automatic out at the plate. It’s important to remember just how good Martin was hitting before he went on the DL.
On the other side, the Braves have a pretty good first baseman. Freddie Freeman has already posted 2.4 WAR this season. That puts him behind only Mike Trout and Bryce Harper. Freeman’s line reads .344/.461/.736, for a wRC+ of 202. That’s just silly. The Jays will need to do their best to work around him this week.