Opposite dugout: As two hot teams clash, Blue Jays still rely on strong bats to back up poor pitching
Manager: John Gibbons (8th season)
Last 10 games: 8-2
Who to watch: 3B Josh Donaldson (.307/.363/.559 with 17 HR, 46 RBIs), DH Jose Bautista (.252/.388/.524 with 13 HR, 43 RBIs), C Russell Martin (.277 with 10 HR, 35 RBIs), 1B Edwin Encarnacion (13 HR, 38 RBIs), LHP Mark Buehrle (7-4, 4.01 ERA), RHP Roberto Osuna (7 holds, 2.05 ERA)
Season series vs. Orioles: 6-3
Inside the Blue Jays:
Who's the hottest in baseball right now? Well, you could make an argument for the American League East. So the question really should be, who's the hottest of the hot in baseball right now? That answer is easily the Blue Jays. Earlier this week, the New York Mets ended the Jays' 11-game winning streak, a streak that contributed most of Toronto's 12 wins in their last 14 games. Ironically, the Blue Jays were only one strike away from beating the Mets in 11 innings on Monday, which would have set a new franchise record 12-game win streak and season-high in the majors. But instead they got stuck at 11 games and are tied with the Mets for the longest in the majors this season.
Usually, a winning streak like the Jays just finished means the team is hitting on all cylinders. But once again, the team is literally just hitting on those cylinders, as offense is what carried the team through its hot streak. They averaged eight runs, more than 11 hits and more than a home run per game over those 11 games, while scoring in double digits three times. That kind of offensive production is more than enough for a pitching staff that is posting a 4.13 ERA on the season. Although to be fair, Jays pitchers did have just a 3.12 ERA over the win streak.
But let's be honest, it's the bats that are charging Toronto back into the heart of the AL East race. As a team, they rank in the top five in the majors in all major offensive statistical categories. They lead the majors in runs scored (376), RBIs (360) and slugging percentage (.446). They are tied for first in on-base percentage (.334), tied for second in home runs (84), third in batting average (.269) and tied for third in hits (619). And all this power pretty much comes from where you would expect it.
Third baseman Josh Donaldson has led the way for the Blue Jays. He leads the team in batting average (.307), homers (17) and RBIs (46). Designated hitter and part-time right fielder Jose Bautista has overcome a sluggish start to be an imposing threat in the lineup. After batting just .164 in April, he batted .295 in May and is now batting .252 on the season. He also already has six homers in June, just one shy of his season total through May. Catcher Russell Martin has continued to produce in his first season with the club. He is batting .277 while smacking 10 homers and driving in 35 runs. And first baseman Edwin Encarnacion, while not batting for average like he wants to at only .235, is still contributing with 13 home runs and 38 RBIs.
On the mound, Marco Estrada will start the series opener tonight. The righty is 3-3 in eight starts since becoming a full-time starter in May. After the Jays lost his first five starts, Estrada has won his last three even with a 5.00 ERA over them. However, he is only 1-2 with a 4.06 ERA at home this season. He recorded his only decision against the Orioles in his only start against Baltimore on May 11. Estrada went five innings while giving up five hits, three runs, two walks, striking out four and homers to Manny Machado and Chris Davis in a 5-2 loss.
Lefty Mark Buehrle will start Saturday's matchup, and he and the Jays probably wish he could start every game against the O's. The Jays and Buehrle have been a terrible matchup for the O's, as he is 3-0 with a 3.50 ERA in three starts against Baltimore already this season. The Jays have also scored 12, 13 and 10 runs in those three starts, so it's not just Buehrle being an Orioles killer. But for whatever reason, when he starts against the Birds, the Jays find a way to win big. This will be his second start at home against the Orioles, where he is 3-1 with a 3.56 ERA. Although he earned a no-decision, he started the game against the Mets when Toronto's wining streak came to an end.
Rookie right-hander Scott Copeland will make his third career start in the series finale and his first start against the team that drafted him. He spent two years in the O's farm system after being drafted in the 21st round of the 2010 draft. He was released in July 2012 and signed with the Blue Jays later that month. Copeland has made four appearances (two starts) with a 2.57 ERA for the Jays this season. In his two starts, he is 1-1 with a 3.27 ERA. The righty throws a 90 mph fastball 66 percent of the time and a 79 mph slider 19 percent of the time. He also throws an 85 mph changeup and 73 mph curveball. His first win in his first start came against Miami at the Rogers Centre on June 10 when he went seven innings and gave up six hits, one run, no walks and four strikeouts in a 7-2 win.
The Blue Jays have had their way with Baltimore in Toronto. Over the course of a three-game sweep of the Birds in April, the Jays outscored Baltimore 24-14 and have outscored them 60-46 on the season. But the Orioles have been hot as of late, too, winning nine of their last 10 and averaging seven runs and 10 hits per game. Aside from the success Buehrle has against Baltimore, this series could end up being a shootout and might come down to who can keep the other team from scoring late. If that's the case, Toronto might be in trouble this time around as the Orioles are fifth in the American league with 21 saves while the Blue Jays are last with only eight. Could that number be misleading due to the Jays' win margin? That's to be determined.