Opposite dugout: Blue Jays bring mix of potent bats, solid pitching to first meeting with O's

blue-jays-logo.jpgManager: John Gibbons, third year
Record: 2-1
Last 10 games: 2-1
Who to watch: DH Edwin Encarnacion (.417/.417/.917, 2 HR, 3 RBIs, 3 R); 3B Josh Donaldson (.182/.250/.182, 0 HR, 0 RBIs); LHP Mark Buehrle (13-10, 3.39 ERA, 1.356 WHIP in 2014); RHP Drew Hutchison (1-0, 1.50 ERA, 0.833 WHIP in 2014)
Season series vs. O's (2014): 8-11, 70 runs scored, 74 runs allowed

Pitching probables
April 10: LHP Mark Buehrle vs. RHP Bud Norris, 3 p.m., MASN
April 11: RHP Aaron Sanchez vs. RHP Ubaldo Jimenez, 7 p.m., MASN
April 12: RHP Drew Hutchison vs. RHP Chris Tillman, 1:30 p.m., MASN

Series breakdown
Following a busy offseason, the Blue Jays are considered by some to be the Orioles' chief competition for the American League East crown.

Toronto arrives in Baltimore for the Birds' first home series of the year boasting an improved squad from the club that won 83 games a year ago. It will also mark the first time the teams meet since the Blue Jays' unsuccessful, but drawn-out offseason courtship of Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette to become their president/CEO.

As for on the field, only one-third of the lineup remains - right fielder Jose Bautista, designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion and shortstop Jose Reyes.

Three-time All-Star catcher Russell Martin signed a five-year, $82 million contract as an upgrade on Dioner Navarro. All-Star third baseman Josh Donaldson was acquired from the A's following two strong seasons. The Blue Jays also added two former Mariners to the lineup in outfielder Michael Saunders and first baseman Justin Smoak. Saunders is out with a knee injury, however.

Prospect Devon Travis, 24, earned the right to start at second base with Maicer Izturis on the disabled list. Dalton Pompey, 22, and Kevin Pillar, 26, complete the outfield for now.

Three-fifths of the rotation remains intact with right-handers R.A. Dickey and Drew Hutchison, and left-hander Mark Buehrle still in place. The Blue Jays lost 23-year-old right-hander Marcus Stroman (torn ACL) for the season, but have two other highly regarded youngsters rounding out their starting five with 21-year-old lefty Daniel Norris and 22-year-old righty Aaron Sanchez.

The bullpen has gotten a bit younger as well with 20-year-old right-handers Miguel Castro and Robert Osuna replacing departed veterans Casey Janssen and Dustin McGowan in key roles.

Left-hander Brett Cecil started the year at closer, but was removed from the role just two games into the season after blowing a save on Wednesday. Castro has taken over the ninth inning, getting the save Thursday. He has yet to allow a baserunner in three scoreless innings, appearing in each of the Blue Jays' first three games this season.

The one rough outing for the bullpen didn't make for a bad start to the season. Toronto took two of three from Yankees at Yankee Stadium to open 2015, outscoring New York 15-8 despite some top bats struggling.

Bautista is 0-for-12 with a walk through first three games, Donaldson is 2-for-11 and Martin is 1-for-11 (but has three RBIs).

Compensating for those struggles were Encarnacion (.417/.417/.917 with two homers and three RBIs) and Travis, who's batting .333/.455/.667 with a homer and three RBIs over the first three games of his career.

The upcoming series with the Orioles brings three intriguing pitching matchups, starting with Buehrle facing right-hander Bud Norris this afternoon. Now the Jays' No. 4 starter, Buehrle had a good 2014 overall (13-10, 3.39 ERA). But he had a 4.64 ERA in 13 starts after the All-Star break.

Buehrle has been solid against the Orioles, going 8-10 with a 3.57 ERA in 24 games (22 starts), but Baltimore caused him more trouble last season. Buehrle went 1-2 with a 4.67 ERA in three starts against the Orioles in 2014, letting them hit .319/.364/.528 against him.

Sanchez, a 2010 first-rounder who pitched 24 games in relief last season, makes his first start of the year against right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez in the second game of the series. Sanchez pitched exceptionally with the Jays in his first major league action, going 2-2 with three saves and a 1.09 ERA in 33 innings.

Hutchison was Toronto's opening day starter and will face Orioles ace Chris Tillman on Sunday. The 24-year-old allowed one run on three hits in six innings to beat the Yankees in the Jays' season opener. Last season, he went 11-13 with a 4.48 ERA in 32 starts, but was far better against the Orioles (3-1 with a 2.54 ERA in six starts).

With a mix of potent bats and a pitching staff that is off to a solid start, the Blue Jays could be a handful this weekend. The Orioles and Jays will see plenty of each other this year, and get a chance to size each other up right away.

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