Series Preview

Series Preview: Blue Jays vs Athletics

The Blue Jays (28-29) may not have won their last series against the Yankees, but given the circumstances, a split should build some momentum. That momentum will now shift to the West Coast, as the Jays begin a six-game road trip. Their first stop is in Oakland to face the Athletics (24-32).

The Meeting On the Mound

Tonight’s game will see J.A. Happ face Sean Manaea (10:05 PM). Happ looked fine in his first game back from the disabled list last week. His biggest focus right now is to regain his command. The Reds were able to hit two homers off of him, and draw three walks, in only 4.0 innings. That will come with more arm strength. The good news for the Jays is that Happ reached 81 pitches last week, which should set him up to go near 100 this time out. On the other side, Manaea has had a respectable season so far. The 25-year-old has a 3.91 ERA over 48.1 innings. Unfortunately for the Jays, Manaea has only allowed one earned run over his last 14.0 innings. Everything seems to be clicking for him right now.

The Jays will send Marco Estrada to the mound for Tuesday’s game (10:05 PM). Estrada had a significant hiccup in his last outing. The Yankees were able to hit him around for seven earned runs over just 3.2 innings. Estrada tends to string together a number of great starts, before he gives up a stinker. Hopefully that cycle will start over on Tuesday. The bullpen could certainly use a deeper outing. The Athletics will turn to Jesse Hahn. His 3.81 ERA over 49.2 innings is similar to Manaea. The similarities extend beyond that, as Hahn also has a relatively low strikeout rate, while he has walked a few too many. He has only allowed 0.18 HR/9 so far. The Jays might be just the team to break him on that front.

Wednesdays’ finale will feature Francisco Liriano up against Jharel Cotton. Like Happ, this will also be Liriano’s second start since returning from the DL. He had a strong return on Friday, as he held the Yankees to only two runs over 5.0 innings. More importantly, he seemed to work well with Luke Maile behind the plate. If that partnership can work out, then it will provide the Jays more flexibility for when to give Russell Martin a day off. The Athletics will give the ball to their weakest starter of the series. Cotton has a 5.11 ERA over 49.1 innings. He also has a high walk rate, with a BB/9 of 4.20. Cotton’s peripherals suggest that his ERA is true to how he has performed. This matchup certainly favours the Blue Jays.

Players to Watch

The Jays’ leadoff hitter isn’t hitting quite as well as he once was. Kevin Pillar has been in a slump ever since he received his team-imposed two-game suspension. Over that time, his slash line reads .154/.214/.231. It has been a sharp return to Pillar’s career norms. If this keeps up, he might soon play his way out of the leadoff spot.

The trouble is that the Jays don’t have a healthy alternative to take over in the leadoff spot. Devon Travis was hit by a pitch on Sunday, and was eventually removed from the game for precautionary reasons. X-rays on his wrist came back negative, which is good to hear. That said, Travis does have a history of injuries, so it will be worth monitoring how much he plays in this series.

The Athletics also have a player who has defied his career norms. Jed Lowrie is off to a terrific start to the year. The veteran shortstop is slashing .295/.363/.490. The Athletics don’t have lots of firepower, but Lowrie leads the pack. If the Jays can contain him throughout the series, then the rest of the lineup should be manageable.

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