Manager: John Gibbons (8th season)
Last 10 games: 5-5
Who to watch: LF Chris Colabello (.368/.417/.568 with 4 HR, 14 RBIs), 3B Josh Donaldson (.312/.372/.604 with 15 HR, 39 RBIs), 1B Edwin Encarnacion (12 HR, 32 RBIs), LHP Mark Buehrle (6-4, 4.97 ERA), RHP Roberto Osuna (1.75 ERA in 25 2/3 IP)
Season series vs. Nationals: First meeting (0-3 in 2012)
Inside the Blue Jays:
The story has remained the same for the Blue Jays throughout most of this season: a high-powered offense that is weighed down by subpar pitching. The bats continue to produce runs in high volumes. The Jays lead the majors in both runs and RBIs - by a lot. Their 263 runs scored and 250 runs batted in are the most by 34 and 30 runs respectively. You would think with those many runs that the Jays were racking up wins by running up the scoreboard.
But you have to play both sides of the ball, so to speak, and Toronto's pitchers are simply not getting the job done. The team is second to last in the American League with an ERA of 4.57. It's really an issue throughout the whole pitching roster. The Blue Jays starters are second to last in the AL with only 18 quality starts, while the bullpen is last in the major leagues with only six saves. And collectively, Jays pitchers are giving up both the second-most runs (237) and earned runs (226) in the AL.
The Blue Jays lineup is a daunting one for opposing pitchers. Jose Reyes is doing the leadoff man's job by hitting safely in each of his last seven games for a total of 10 hits since returning from injury on May 25. This is leading the way for the power hitters behind him: Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. If it weren't for Seattle's Nelson Cruz, we would be talking about an MVP type season for Donaldson. He is second in to Cruz in the AL with 14 home runs and leads the league with 39 RBIs, while his .312 batting average and .604 slugging percentage lead his team.
Bautista finally started contributing in May. After finishing April with a .164/.325/.443 line, Bautista went .286/.410/.488 in May. He only hit two home runs in May compared to seven in April, but has 14 more hits, four more RBIs, five more walks and six less strikeouts in May than April. Encarnacion has also stepped up after batting only .205 in April. He slashed .245/.351/.553 in May while doubling his homers for a total of 12 and more than doubling his RBIs and walks for 32 and 23, respectively, on the season.
The pitching staff is not as daunting. Right-hander R.A. Dickey gets the ball to start the series and has struggled lately. In his four starts since May 10, he has a 7.92 ERA with opponents hitting .294 against him. The knuckleballer will mix in a fastball that only averages 81 mph and rarely throws a changeup. Dickey has come across the Nationals before in his time with the Mets. In 15 appearances and 13 starts against the Nats, Dickey is 4-6 with a 3.73 ERA. All four of those wins came at Nationals Park, where he is 4-1 with a 2.58 ERA in eight starts. He'll face fellow righty Jordan Zimmermann for the third time, although Dickey lost the previous two, both at home.
Former Nationals righty Marco Estrada started the season well for the Blue Jays coming out of the bullpen. As a reliever through April, the former sixth-round draft pick of the Nats made six appearances while posting an 0.84 ERA in 10 2/3 innings pitched and even earned a win over Boston. However, since making his first start of the season on May 5, he has an ERA of 5.02 over five starts with the Jays losing each one and Estrada taking the decision in three. He is 1-1 in five appearances (three starts) against his former team with a 4.70 ERA. It won't get any easier this time as Estrada goes toe-to-toe with Nats ace Max Scherzer.
The only lefty starter the Jays will throw is Mark Buehrle, who posted a 4.94 ERA in April, but still managed to go 3-1 thanks to the Jays bats. The offense put up 11 runs through the six innings he pitched in each of his three wins. It's too bad Buehrle isn't pitching up Interstate 95 North against the Orioles. Three of his six wins this year have come against the Birds with Buehrle getting major run support in each. He has faced the Washington franchise twice with the White Sox back when they were the Expos and three times as the Nationals while with the Marlins. He's 1-0 in those games against the Nationals with a 3.60 ERA, but a 4.85 ERA at Nats Park.
The last time these two teams faced off was back in 2012, which ended in a three-game sweep for the Nats at Rogers Centre. The Blue Jays are an all-time 2-4 at Nationals Park, and this time around will especially hurt if they can't keep all of their big bats in the lineup without a designated hitter (Bautista has been limited to DH duty recently with a bum shoulder, but is reportedly ready to play the field again). If the Jays are going to turn around their fortunes against Washington, something has to give between their bats and pitching. Either their offense is explosive enough to carry this team by outscoring opponents or their pitching is bad enough to bring this once optimistic club crashing to the bottom of the standings.