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Series Preview #26: Toronto Blue Jays @ Houston Astros

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The Astros (52-27, 1st in AL West) host the Blue Jays (36-41, 4th in AL East) for 3 games before returning to the road

MLB: Toronto Blue Jays at Houston Astros Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Recency Bias

Blue Jays

The Blue Jays fly in to town after splitting a 4 game series against the Angels, but have been a little up and down. After a lukewarm start to the season, the Jays have meandered out to a sub .500 record. The offense has also been up and down, able to muster up decent to good showings against bad teams, but usually falling flat against better teams. However, Toronto has defied that in the last week with a power surge against the Angels and Atlanta to the tune of 10 homers and 18 doubles. Kendrys Morales has been crushing it in that time with 3 of those 10 homers belonging to him and a .500/.611/1.214 slash line in 18 PAs. Justin Smoak and Curtis Anderson both had a couple of solid series as well, slashing .368/.429/.579 and .308/.357/.615, respectively. Aledmys Diaz has also been getting some timely hits at the plate and Steve Pearce has been a solid option for DH, 1B or LF in Toronto. Beyond that, only Russell Martin has been a decent threat in the lineup while everyone else has had trouble getting on base. Old Friend Teoscar Hernandez is one those though he has had a decent season overall with some pop.

As for the Jays’ pen, they are sitting near the bottom of the pack for most pitching categories, though seldom in the bottom five. The bullpen would take a hit when Roberto Osuna was placed on the restricted list for domestic assault. Out of the relievers who have seen heavy usage this year, Ryan Tepera seems to be the Jays’ most reliable arm and has recently been installed as the closer. Old Friend Tyler Clippard is also having himself a decent year, establishing himself as a late inning mop up guy for Toronto, though he has gotten himself 3 saves along the way. Tepera and Clippard have both managed to avoid giving up runs in this week’s games, with both pitching at least 3 innings. Seung Hwan Oh has also pitched decently this season, but beyond that things have been a little thin for clutch arms. Toronto has been a little bit by the injury bug, with 2 bullpen arms on the DL in recent weeks. One of those called on to plug the hales has been Tim Mayza, who has had a mostly decent 2018 except for a few bad outings. There is also Preston Guilmet, but he has not been very effective in his limited time since being called up.

The Jays will look to play for pride and squeeze some more trade value out of some of their big pieces as they face the Astros.

Astros

The Astros have continued shredding teams near or under .500 with a 14-2 record in the past five series. The offense has been firing on all cylinders except for a couple of recent hiccups, scoring at least 4 runs in each of those 14 wins. Altuve has been on fire, slashing .474/.565/.947 to go with 2 homers in the series against Kansas City and Tampa. Yuli Gurriel has also been clutch in that time, with his own line of .348/.400/.696 with 2 home runs, including a grand slam in the finale against the Royals. Reddick has continued his strong home average, stroking 5 singles and taking a walk, but is not hitting for power at all. Both Stassi and Gattis have cooled off recently. Gattis has been cold since receiving player of the week honors, but has managed a little pop with a double and a homer in 3 hits. Unfortunately, Bregman, Kemp, Correa, Springer, McCann, and Gonzalez all have an OPS under .620 for the home stand, but can hopefully find some improvement against Toronto. Springer continues with his woes at the plate, only hitting .095 this week, but has taken 6 walks, keeping his OBP from spiraling. Marwin has been a little worse, slashing .067/.263/.067 in his five games this week.

Houston’s bullpen has been seeing a little more work recently with some extra inning games, but starters have still been getting at least through the 5th inning regularly. Devo and McHugh have both been seeing the most work recently, both of whom are quietly putting together elite relief seasons. Devo has been especially dominant in June, having held opponents scoreless in 10 IP with only 6 base runners allowed and 11 K’s. McHugh has also been money in the bank out of the pen, having embraced the role even though he’s been used in mostly long relief mop up or as a late game innings eater. Brad Peacock has also been holding his own, having worked 3.1 innings in the last 6 games and only allowing a single batter to reach in that time. Rondon and Giles have both looked a little shaky at home, with both giving up runs since the Astros returned to Houston and allowing a few extra base runners. Sipp had his scoreless streak broken against the Royals, having kept opposing offenses silent since mid May. Harris has also been looking better lately, having had a few confidence building outings in a row.

The Astros will look to keep Seattle firmly in the rear view mirror, who is now 4.5 games back in the division, and take a much firmer hold on the AL West.

Pitching Match Ups

Game 1: J.A. Happ, LHP (9-3, 3.56 ERA) vs. Justin Verlander, RHP (9-2, 1.60 ERA)

Happ has been Toronto’s best pitcher in 2018 with the consensus being that he’s not long for Canada and will be traded soon. In the meantime, he has been mostly solid on the bump for the Jays with really only one clunker of an outing this season. He did allow 4 ER in 8.1 IP against Atlanta in his most recent start, but two were allowed by a reliever. He has labored with command at times, but has also shown an ability to dominate opposing teams. His peripherals also show that his performance isn’t smoke and mirrors, and opposing batters will find a challenge in Happ.

The Astros tricked me by switching Verlander with Cole after I had written last Thursday’s series preview, but joke’s on them because now I can just copy and paste this: Verlander will get the ball for Houston and has continued his storied pace so far in 2018. His last start against Tampa was a 6.2 IP game of 1 run ball where he came close to getting out of the 7th before having to turn things over. It was also his third double digit strikeout game of the season and 45th of his career. Unfortunately, the Astros have lost all three of those games this year, scoring only 2 runs in them. Verlander now has 15 quality starts out of 16 on the year and has yet to give up more than 3 ER.

As per usual, Verlander has the advantage until he doesn’t (I didn’t even have to change this part!).

Game 2: Ryan Borucki, LHP (0-0, -.— ERA) vs. Charlie Morton, RHP (9-1, 2.74 ERA)

Though not officially announced as of Sunday night, highly rated pitching prospect Ryan Borucki was scratched from his most recent start and is expected to make his MLB debut for Toronto on Tuesday. He is filling in for an injured Aaron Sanchez in the rotation. Borucki, 24, was selected in the 15th round of the 2012 draft and underwent Tommy John surgery in 2013. He had a minor league breakout season in 2017, starting in advanced A ball before pitching his final game in AAA. He’s continued that success in AAA this year, with a 3.27 ERA over 13 starts. He did have a shaky start in a recent game with 5 ER and 4 BB in 7 IP, but would follow it up with a 7 IP 0 ER gem.

Morton has been able to work his way through two straight quality starts, but command has been an issue for him, giving up 4 walks in each of his last two games and 6 in the previous. For his two most recent, he’ll seem to have an inning or two where is command completely leaves him, but then will find a pitch that’s working for him and ride it through the game. He has been able to keep a healthy K/9 clip going throughout the season and has managed to avoid giving up home runs recently, but will need to find command for all his pitches at once if he wants to avoid regression.

This one is hard to say as sometimes rookies can catch even good teams by surprise, but Morton has been improving in successive starts even with the spotty command, so I’m going to give him a slight edge.

Game 3: Marco Estrada, RHP (4-7, 4.48 ERA) vs. Dallas Keuchel, LHP (4-8, 3.90 ERA)

Estrada comes in on a run of good starts, having gone at least 6.0 IP in his last four games without giving up more than 2 ER in any of them. Those starts were against the Angels and the Nationals, who are struggling, but are not terrible teams. Before that he had been having his own issues, with a couple of truncated starts in a row, and has had more than a few forgettable starts this season. His FIP is almost exactly the same as his ERA and .289 BABIP say that there’s a good chance the Astros can pounce on Estrada, but who is also capable of keeping his run of good pitching going.

Houston counters with Keuchel, who has managed two solid outings back to back, going 6.0 IP and giving up 0 ER in both, though there were two unearned from an error. Both of those games came against the hapless Royals, but Dallas has stuck to his game plan and the results were there for these two games. Before that, of course, DK had been struggling mightily for a stretch of about 5 games. He currently sits at a .299 BABIP and has a 3.93 FIP, so he looks to be stabilizing, and may be able to find improvement if he can continue gaining confidence.

Both pitchers have had their struggles though Keuchel has had a better overall season. I’m going to call this one a push.

Fun Facts

The Astros will reach the halfway point of their season after Tuesday’s game.

Yuli Gurriel is now leading the league in batting average with RISP at .464

For Your Viewing and Listening Pleasure

Game 1: Monday, June 25th @ 7:10 pm CDT
Listen: Blue Jays - SN590 / Astros - KBME 790, La Ranchera 850 AM
Watch: Blue Jays - SNET, TVA Sports / Astros - ATT SportsNet-SW / MLB.TV

Game 2: Tuesday, June 26th @ 7:10 pm CDT
Listen: Blue Jays - SN590 / Astros - KBME 790, La Ranchera 850 AM
Watch: Blue Jays - SNET, TVA Sports / Astros - ATT SportsNet-SW / MLB.TV

Game 3: Wednesday, June 27th @ 1:10 pm CDT
Listen: Blue Jays - SN590 / Astros - KBME 790, La Ranchera 850 AM
Watch: Blue Jays - SNET, TVA Sports / Astros - ATT SportsNet-SW / MLB Network (out-of-market only) / MLB.TV

Poll

Who wins this series?

This poll is closed

  • 36%
    Astros Sweep 3-0
    (74 votes)
  • 55%
    Astros Win 2-1
    (113 votes)
  • 5%
    Blue Jays Win 2-1
    (12 votes)
  • 2%
    Blue Jays Sweep 3-0
    (5 votes)
204 votes total Vote Now