Opposite dugout: Blue Jays still searching for longballs, rotation rhythm

blue-jays-logo.jpgManager: John Gibbons (10th season)

Record: 1-7

Last 10 games: 1-7

Who to watch: 3B Josh Donaldson (.308/.438/.577 with 2 HR), DH Kendrys Morales (.250 with 6 RBIs), SS Troy Tulowitzki (1 HR, 9 RBIs), RHP Aaron Sanchez (1.29 ERA), RHP Joe Biagini (1.42 ERA in 6 1/3 IP)

Season series vs. Orioles: 0-2

Pitching probables:

April 13: RHP Kevin Gausman vs. LHP Francisco Liriano, 7:07 p.m., MASN
April 14: LHP Wade Miley vs. RHP Aaron Sanchez, 7:07 p.m., MASN2
April 15: RHP Alec Asher vs. RHP Marco Estrada, 1:07 p.m., MASN
April 16: RHP Dylan Bundy vs. LHP J.A. Happ, 1:07 p.m., MASN

Inside the Blue Jays:

The Blue Jays are home for their first homestand of the season, while the Orioles are making the second stop of their first road trip of 2017. Tonight, of course, will be the first meeting between these two teams at Rogers Centre since last year’s American League wild card game. And that’s all I have to say about that ...

Maybe Orioles fans can find some sort of comfort in the fact that the Blue Jays are off to their worst start in franchise history at 1-7 and are the only team in baseball yet to win multiple games.

We are now over a week into the season, so while it still may be premature to draw definite conclusions on teams, certain areas of improvement are starting to show themselves for each club. For the Jays, it’s the longball. We addressed it in our season-opening series preview a little over a week ago, and the concern remains. After finishing fourth in the major leagues in home runs last season, Toronto is currently tied for 28th among 30 big league teams with just four homers so far this year. For comparison, the Blue Jays hit nine homers through the first eight games in 2016.

Only third baseman Josh Donaldson has multiple homers for the Blue Jays so far, while slashing .308/.438/.577. New designated hitter Kendry Morales is hitting .250 with six RBIs and three extra-base hits. Shortstop Troy Tulowitzki leads the team with four extra-base hits and nine RBIs, but is only hitting .172 in the young season. And right fielder José Bautista, to the delight of Orioles fans everywhere, is off to a horrendous start to the season, batting .138 with no home runs and just one RBI. Only one of his four hits has gone for extra bases, a double.

But while the bats haven’t found the ball, the Jays pitching hasn’t found its rhythm either. Before Marcus Stroman’s complete game in a losing effort last night, Toronto’s team ERA ranked 12th in the AL and the rotation 13th. Stroman only gave up two runs, so the team ERA currently stands at 4.23 and the rotation at 4.57, both good enough to be rank in the middle of the league.

Left-hander Francisco Liriano’s 135.00 ERA (that is not a typo) definitely doesn’t help, however. Starting for the Jays in tonight’s series opener, Liriano gave up five runs in just one-third of an inning against the Rays in his first start of the season. But he did pitch 6 1/3 shutout innings in his only start against the Orioles last year. On the other hand, right-hander Aaron Sanchez was great in his season-opening start, giving up just one run in seven innings while striking out six. Getting Friday’s assignment, he dominated the Orioles last year, going 4-0 with a 3.00 ERA in five starts against Baltimore.

Righty Marco Estrada gets the ball for Saturday’s matinee for the Jays. He has posted a 5.73 ERA over his first two starts of the season, thanks in large part to giving up five runs over five innings in his second start against the Rays. He pitched six innings of two-run ball on opening day at Camden Yards, earning a no-decision in the Orioles’ walk-off win. Lefty J.A. Happ will face the Birds for the second time in 2017 when he takes the mound Sunday afternoon. The Orioles handed him a loss last week by getting him for three runs over seven innings. But Happ may be more comfortable this time around after going 11-2 with a 2.90 ERA at Rogers Centre last year.

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