Preview: Blue Jays take aim at series win over Orioles

Drew Hutchison takes to the mound tonight for the Toronto Blue Jays (11-10), as they look to take the rubber match of their three-game series against the Baltimore Orioles (7:07 ET, Sportsnet)

To shake things up a bit in the preview, today we’re going to do a question and answer format. Four burning questions/storylines to keep an eye on in tonight’s game. Let’s call it Rounding The Bases.

1. Can Drew Hutchison take it to The Next Level?

Stock_Hutchison03In his four starts thus far, Hutch has gone 5.1, 3.1, 6, 5.1 innings. He’s thrown 83, 78, 96, 100 pitches. He’s 1-1, but could just as easily be 3-1. In his last two starts, he’s gotten all of one run of support while he’s been in the game. And that’s just the thing. You’d like to see him pitch deeper into the game. It’s a common theme for all the starters this season, but considering how impressive he looked in spring training, I think there’s an expectation that he can at least get into the seventh inning of almost every start. His longest of the season was the six-innings of shutout ball he tossed against these Orioles at Camden Yards two weeks ago, so I’m optimistic about tonight.

2. Can Brett Lawrie continue to defy all baseball logic?

I really just don’t get it. Lawrie is hitting .165, with a .221 on base percentage. He has hit 7th or lower in most games this season. Yet he leads the team with 18 RBI in 21 games. He’s on pace to drive in 138 runs. Obviously that isn’t going to happen, but he’s got a legitimate shot to finish April with 20-25 RBI, while hitting below the Mendoza Line. That’s just absurd. Can you imagine what’s possible if he can get the bat going on a consistent basis, and not just rely on 3-run home runs? The long ball accounts for 13 of his 18 RBI. The other five? Two infield singles, a groundout, a sac fly, and a shallow fly-ball single to a catcher playing in right field. In other words, mostly flukes. He has no extra-base hits aside from the five dingers. He’s drawn just five walks, while striking out 15 times. I don’t have an answer for this. I wish I did. In the last two games (since he started growing that ridiculous moustache), he’s 4-for-8 with two home runs and six driven in. Last night was just his second multi-hit game of the season, and his first since April 13. If he can start to string some good at bats together, look out.

3. Can the rest of the offense stay hot?

A week and a half ago in Baltimore, Bud Norris stymied the Toronto bats. He threw seven shutout innings that night, allowing just five hits. Had it not been for Colby Rasmus’ two-strike, two-out home run off closer Tommy Hunter in the 9th, he would have gotten the W. Instead, he’s 0-2. The Jays pounded out 16 hits last night, but left 10 men on base. All signs point to them being able to have their way with Norris, too. They just have to finish better, and hope for better pitching.

4. When will the 3-man bench madness end?

The look on John Gibbons’ face matches mine when I think about how and why the Blue Jays only carry 3 bench players.

My guess is not any time soon. It really bit John Gibbons in the ass for the first time last night, when he burned through all 3 players in the 7th inning. Moises Sierra didn’t even get to play. He was announced as a pinch hitter, and then pinch hit for after a pitching change. Jonathan Diaz came up in the bottom of the 9th with the bases loaded and 1 out. It would have been the ideal time to use a power bat, like a Dan Johnson, or an Erik Kratz. Instead, little Jonny grounded into a double play. He would have been better off striking out, or even bunting into a force out, just to get Jose Reyes and the top of the order up again. But, no. This is the world that we live in right now. And as long as Dustin McGowan is in the rotation (and the rest of the starters refuse to pitch longer than 5 innings or so), Gibbons will be using the 8-man bullpen. And there’s nothing we can do about it, until maybe it bites them in the ass again and Anthopolous forces Gibbons to manage like a real boy. (Actually, with the Jays going to NL parks weekend, they’ll HAVE to carry four bench players. Hopefully that philosophy sticks when they return home).

Here’s tonight’s starting lineup:

Blue Jays 04/24 (11-10)
SS 7 Jose Reyes .238 1 4
LF 53 Melky Cabrera .370 5 8
RF 19 Jose Bautista .484 6 13
1B 10 Edwin Encarnacion .301 1 9
C 30 Dioner Navarro .311 0 12
DH 47 Juan Francisco .412 0 1
3B 13 Brett Lawrie .221 5 18
CF 28 Colby Rasmus .253 3 5
2B 17 Ryan Goins .214 1 1
P 36 Drew Hutchison 3.60 1 1

It’s the same nine guys as last night, but the deck chairs have been shuffled a bit. Navarro/Francisco flip-flop to move the hot-hitting catcher up to 5th; Lawrie and Rasmus swap places as well, perhaps to maximize Lawrie’s power trip. All fine with me.

This is a game the Jays have to have. It could have been an opportunity for a sweep, and I set the Success Bar at 4-2 for the homestand. A loss tonight means they have to sweep the reigning World Series champs. But at the same time, continually winning two out of three (if Toronto wins tonight, it will be their third 2-of-3 series win in the last four), is a pretty good pace. In fact, if you win 2 of 3 for the entire season, you win 108 games. So, yeah, I’ll take that.

Unfortunately no live tweeting for us tonight. Asher will be at the game however, and he’ll have the post-game recap later in the evening.

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