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Oakland A's - Toronto Blue Jays series preview: Immovable object vs. unstoppable force

The Athletics will send three of the best pitchers in the American League against one of the league's best top-to-bottom lineups.

Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

The Toronto Blue Jays (47-47) visit the Oakland Athletics (43-51) coming off winning two of three from the Tampa Bay Rays. The Jays, however, have lost 10 of their last 16, are 4½ games out of first place in the AL East, and four games behind the second Wild Card.

In some ways, they've been unlucky. The Jays are 10-19 in one-run games and are playing six games below their expected BaseRuns record.

It should be an intriguing matchup, with the A's scheduled to send two pitchers with top five earned run averages (Sonny Gray, 2.29 and Scott Kazmir, 2.38) in the American League against the AL's top offense.

At the plate

Blue Jays AL Ranks A's
1st (5.30) RS/G 7th (4.33)
1st (112) wRC+ 8th (101)
T-2nd (120) HR 11th (80)
3rd (.263) AVG 5th (.256)
2nd (.330) OBP 7th (.316)
1st (.441) SLG 10th (.394)
2nd (.178) ISO 11th (.138)
7th (52) SB 6th (54)
T-10th (55) Errors 15th (85)
8th (-5) DRS 5th (13)
8th (-5.1) UZR 14th (-22.4)
8th (.711) DE 2nd (.723)

The Blue Jays have the best run scoring in the league by a lot. Let's take a look at their typical lineup and bench options. Often, when you've got stars like let's say Mike Trout, Albert Pujols, and Kole Calhoun, they're balanced out by scrubs like C.J. Cron, Matt Joyce, and Chris Iannetta.

Not so for the Blue Jays. Beyond Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, and Josh Donaldson, they have a lineup of very good hitters, as it turns out. Justin Smoak has found the swing the Seattle Mariners had waited so long for him to pick up at Safeco Field, Russell Martin is having an All-Star year, and Chris Colabello has come out of nowhere to light up Rogers Centre. Here was Toronto's starting lineup Friday out of the All-Star break:

Bats Overall vs. LHP vs. RHP
1 Jose Reyes S 94 67 103
2 Josh Donaldson R 143 189 130
3 Jose Bautista R 145 148 144
4 Edwin Encarnacion R 114 121 112
5 Justin Smoak S 130 255 118
6 Russell Martin R 116 145 108
7 Chris Colabello R 145 187 131
8 Kevin Pillar R 93 91 93
9 Devon Travis R 132 147 126
BN Dioner Navarro S 64 41 70
BN Ryan Goins L 61 88 55
BN Danny Valencia R 135 127 143
BN Ezequiel Carrera L 73 124 66

Their worst hitting starter, Kevin Pillar, is basically an average hitter who has made some spectacular defensive plays this year. The Blue Jays lineup isn't nine regular joes or stars-and-scrubs, it's stars-and-stars, and it's why they're scoring 5.3 runs per game.

Eric Sogard Line

The Eric Sogard Line is Sogard's wRC+, representing my gut feel for what represents serviceable offensive production for a bottom of the order hitter with a good glove, but you probably don't want more than one or two of those in your lineup.

Sogard's wRC+ fell from 66 to 63 after going 0-for-4 against the Minnesota Twins. The Blue Jays have just one player hitting below the Sogard Line on their active roster, Ryan Goins, who has of late been relegated to a bench role. Active players just above the line are backup catcher Dioner Navarro (64) and backup outfielder Ezequiel Carrera (73).

On the hill

Starter Ranks
Blue Jays AL Rank A's
13th (4.35) ERA 1st (3.00)
15th (4.36) FIP 1st (3.33)
13th (4.30) xFIP 6th (3.74)

The Jays are only at .500, however, because they're conceding 4.35 runs per game. Their starting staff took a hit before the year started after sending Sean Nolin and Kendall Graveman to the A's for you know who, and Marcus Stroman tore his ACL in spring training during pitcher's fielding practice.

Drew Hutchison and R.A. Dickey have been underwhelming as starters, and Felix Doubront is just a stop gap for the injured Aaron Sanchez. Mark Buehrle leads the staff with a 3.34 ERA. That's good, but not an ace's performance in this run-scoring environment. The A's face Buehrle, Doubront, and Hutchison this week:

Tuesday (7:05 PM PDT) Wednesday (7:05 PM PDT) Thursday (12:35 PM PDT)
Mark Buehrle vs. Kendall Graveman Felix Doubront vs. Sonny Gray Drew Hutchison vs. Scott Kazmir
Left Hand Right Left Hand Right Right Hand Left
3.34 ERA 3.38 4.50 ERA 2.29 5.19 ERA 2.38
3.89 FIP 4.21 3.13 FIP 2.85 3.75 FIP 3.09
3.99 xFIP 4.25 3.00 xFIP 3.34 3.87 xFIP 3.51
12.4% K% 14.4% 14.8% K% 22.1% 20.5% K% 23.0%
4.1% BB% 7.6% 1.6% BB% 6.5% 7.0% BB% 8.0%
1.63 GB/FB 1.69 4.13 GB/FB 1.78 1.16 GB/FB 1.37


Bullpen Ranks
Blue Jays AL Ranks A's
7th (275.2) IP 13th (255.1)
8th (3.59) ERA 14th (4.27)
6th (3.56) FIP 10th (4.07)
3rd (3.44) xFIP 9th (3.88)

It's been an odd year for Toronto's reliever corp. Toronto's bullpen has been charged with as many losses as the A's, 17, which is tied for third most in the American League.

Brett Cecil was tapped as the closer at the start of the year to take over for Casey Janssen, who went to the Washington Nationals in free agency. For awhile it didn't really matter whether or not Cecil actually could close games, as the Jays' run-scoring only gave Cecil seven chances to close. The Jays have had quite a feast-or-famine offense, scoring three or fewer 38 times while scoring six or more 43 times.

Cecil only converted on five of his seven chances, however, and was removed as closer on June 23 after a dreadful six appearance stretch where he conceded 10 earned runs in 5⅔ innings while losing two games, including one blown save. Roberto Osuna appears to be the main closer now, and he is four-for-five in save chances.

2015 Stats Recent usage (pitch count from
Player Hand IP ERA K% BB% GB/FB 20-Jul 19-Jul 18-Jul 17-Jul 16-Jul 15-Jul
Roberto Osuna R 42.0 2.14 29.3% 6.1% 0.61 14 9
Steve Delabar R 24.0 3.75 26.7% 10.9% 1.13
Bo Schultz R 24.1 1.85 21.9% 6.3% 1.70 28
Aaron Loup L 34.0 5.03 26.4% 3.5% 2.13 14
Liam Hendriks R 39.0 3.00 23.6% 3.8% 1.69
Brett Cecil L 30.0 4.50 26.8% 8.7% 1.48 8
Ryan Tepera R 18.2 2.89 18.3% 2.8% 1.28 12

The games

Root Beer Float Day is Wednesday night, benefiting the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. Stadium gates will open at 5:05 with current and former A's players and coaches as well as other celebrities scheduled to participate. Thursday's day game will be the first CSN California radio simulcast scheduled to feature Ken Korach at the microphone with Glen Kuiper and Ray Fosse.

Time (PT) Probable starters TV Promotion
Tuesday 7:05 PM Mark Buehrle vs. Kendall Graveman CSNCA
Wednesday 7:05 PM Felix Doubront vs. Sonny Gray CSNCA Root Beer Float Day
Thursday 12:35 PM Drew Hutchison vs. Scott Kazmir CSNCA radio simulcast