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Preview: Blue Jays look for series win in Cleveland

Stock_Reyes05Jose Reyes returns to the lineup, while Juan Francisco makes his debut, as the Blue Jays (9-8) look for consecutive victories against the Indians (7-9) in Cleveland (1:05 ET, Sportsnet).

Toronto eked out an important 3-2 victory last night, thanks to a strong start from Drew Hutchison, effective work from the bullpen, and some timely hitting.

Hutchison (1-1, 3.60), went 5.1, allowing just two runs while striking out 9. The bullpen, less than 24 hours after a collosal meltdown in Minnesota, got a chance at redemption, and came through.

Steve Delabar, who got credit for the win, finished up the 6th. Cecil pitched an efficient 7th, despite allowing two baserunners, but looked sharp. He’s been the club’s best reliever so far, and if Santos falters again, I wouldn’t hesitate to promote him to the closer’s role.

Neil Wagner (the closer in AAA Buffalo) pitched a 1-2-3 8th before handing it over to Santos. He was in much better command of his pitches, but still allowed a leadoff double, and a pair of two-out walks. He got Michael Brantley to ground out to first, but it was a rocket of a shot right at Edwin Encarnacion, and if it was a foot and a half over in either direction, it’s game over. Today’s bullpen usage will be interesting, since almost everyone has pitched in consecutive games. If I were to guess, I’d say Santos and Wagner won’t be available, but almost everyone else, including Cecil and Delabar, should be good to go.

**UPDATE** – John Gibbons has said the only available relievers today are J.A. Happ, Esmil Rogers and Aaron Loup, who will be the closer.

..

….

Now that you’ve revived, Gibbons said that all other relievers (Santos, Delabar, Cecil, Wagner, Redmond) are all being hidden behind the “Break Glass in Case of Emergency” cases. I think the fact that you have three available relievers, two of which are very suspect, is enough of an emergency already. This makes the following paragraph even more true than when I wrote it 40 minutes ago.

** END OF UPDATE**

Stock_Buehrle02They’ll need a strong start out of Mark Buehrle regardless. The rotation has now gone four straight games without making it through six innings, and Buehrle is usually good for at least that. He’s off to a fantastic start at 3-0, with a dazzling 0.86 ERA. This guy, who I will admit I was legitimately worried about for this season as he gets another year older, has been absolutely sensational, and is the de facto “ace” through the first 17 games. At this point, it’s an expectation that he DOES come out and have a great start, and that’s not something Jays fans have grown accustomed to.

On the offensive side, Jose Reyes! The Blue Jays get their starting shortstop back, and he should provide some extra jump at the top of the order. With Melky Cabrera continuing to hit well (he had FOUR hits last night), if Reyes can get on base with any sort of regularity, that will make for a very potent 1-2 punch ahead of home run leader Jose Bautista. Keep in mind that by the time Reyes returned to the lineup last season, Cabrera was extremely banged up when he did play. So Toronto really HASN’T seen the potential for these two guys at the top of the order yet. And for the second consecutive season, the club will have to wait at least a month to get their “ideal” starting 9 into a game together. That’s because last night Adam Lind was placed on the DL. It seems like he made good progress over the last few days, but needs more treatment and an eventual rehab assignment. Hopefully he’s back in two weeks and the Jays can finally get an everyday lineup on a consistent basis. Here’s who is in the lineup today:

Blue Jays 04/19 (9-8)
OBP HR RBI
SS 7 Jose Reyes .000 0 0
LF 53 Melky Cabrera .350 4 5
DH 19 Jose Bautista .453 6 11
1B 10 Edwin Encarnacion .329 0 5
C 30 Dioner Navarro .266 0 9
CF 28 Colby Rasmus .274 3 5
3B 13 Brett Lawrie .174 3 11
DH Juan Francisco .000 0 0
2B 17 Ryan Goins .200 0 0
ERA W L
P 56 Mark Buehrle 0.86 3 0

Francisco makes his Blue Jays debut batting 8th. He’s tearing the cover off the ball in Buffalo, and looks like a very schrewd spring signing by Alex Anthopolous now.

Also, umm. Brett Lawrie and Jose Bautista are tied for the team-lead in RBI. I don’t know what to make of this, since Lawrie is having an attrocious season at the plate. It makes me think his numbers are going to be through the roof at the end of the year if he ever gets the bat going. Also, that’s why I include OBP in the lineup instead of average, because Bautista’s league-leading 100 walks (slight exaggeration) make his stats look way more impressive (and accurate).

The offense was held in relative check by Justin Masterson last night, but broke through against the bullpen. (Klutch Kawasaki Knock Alert!) Edwin Encarnacion also drove in an important run with the bases loaded, as he continues to search for his first homerun. He only had 2 at this point last season, and still ended up with almost 40, so … it’ll happen.

Today they get young righty Corey Kluber, who’s 1-1 with a 5.40 ERA.

This afternoon’s game is important for a couple of reasons. A victory guarantees a winning record on this 9-game road trip, which also ensures they return home at least one game above .500. With division rivals Baltimore and Boston coming into town next week, the Jays continue an important stretch as they look to stay near the top of the AL East standings. It’s important to win as many games as possible against non-division opponents since their own division is so ferociously competitive. After dropping an almost sure-win in Minnesota, and 2 of 3 overall against a lesser important, the Jays NEED at least two, if not all three, here in Cleveland.

No live tweet today, but we should have a recap up after the game this afternoon. Don’t forget to follow on Twitter:

@jaysbalk
@di_nic

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