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Oakland A's vs. Blue Jays series preview Q&A with Bluebird Banter

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Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

The Toronto Blue Jays are in town to open the second half of the season with a three-game series. The Jays enter Friday in a virtual tie with Boston for second place in the AL East, behind division-leading Baltimore. The Oakland A's enter this series in fourth place in the AL West, one game ahead of the Angels in the cellar.

The A's will see the following starters:

Fri: Daniel Mengden vs. Marcus Stroman
Sat: Sonny Gray vs. R.A. Dickey
Sun: Rich Hill vs. J.A. Happ

Stroman is having a rough year in his first full MLB season, after missing most of last year to a torn ACL. Dickey and Happ are both having above-average years. Here is the companion piece on Bluebird Banter.

1. Hi. I ordered one Liam Hendriks from your company last winter, but I think the one you sent me is defective. Your website said that when he throws a pitch the batter is supposed to miss, but instead they keep hitting the ball, like, really hard all over the place. Can I please send him back for a new one?

Hey, when we shipped him he was in perfect condition. If he's allergic to the color green that's not our fault. No Backsies.

You know, Blue Jays fans hated that trade, but I thought we were selling high on Hendriks. He had a great 2015 season, but it came out of nowhere. 2014 he was very hittable and seemed to have this great ability to have balls hit to the wall. He threw strikes, but very hittable strikes and he made sure our outfielders got their work in.

No one was as surprised as me when he turned into something useful in 2015. When he was traded, many on the site were very upset, but I was thinking ‘no this is the way you do things, someone has a surprise terrific season, you sell quick.'

But no, I didn't expect he would be that bad.

2. What did you do to Danny Valencia, and can you please do it to Billy Butler and Yonder Alonso as well?

For us, Valencia was a guy that could crush lefties, but you didn't want to see him out there against RHP. He seems to have learned to hit right-handers well enough that you can play him every day.

As to what we did to him, I think there is a value in sitting and talking hitting with Jose Bautista. Not to downplay hitting coaches or anyone else, but Jose is an intelligent man, I think watching him hit (see Josh Donaldson) helps some guys, but talking to him and learning that he goes to the plate with a plan and is willing to take a strike or two waiting for his pitch has helped a number of Blue Jays.

Maybe it is just that Jose learned to hit major league pitching a little later in his career that helps. He was a journeyman for so long that other players look at him and think ‘he figured it out late, maybe I can.'

Yonder is one of those guys who, I thought was going to be very good, maybe you should loan him to us and we'll get him hitting, over the next 5 or 6 years, and then we can send him back?

3. If you had to play a must-win game tomorrow, which starting pitcher would you choose: Aaron Sanchez, a theoretically healthy Marco Estrada, or Rich Hill? Which two would you have picked for the All-Star team?

Right now, if it is a must win, Marco Estrada is my man, but then he's pitched a couple of must win games for us. Game 3 of last year's ALDS, with us down 2-0, he gave us the terrific start we needed to get back in the series. Then, Game 5 of the ALCS, down 3-1, pitching 7.2 innings of 3 hit ball. Since he has the track record in those must win games, he would be my guy.

Aaron Sanchez might be my favourite pitcher to watch. He had been so good as a reliever, the last couple of years, that most people I talked to wanted to keep him in the pen, but being in the rotation, we get to see more of his rather spectacular curve.

The problem, at the moment, is he is in uncharted waters as far as innings pitched is concerned. He's thrown 118 innings already and some are thinking that the team will move him back to the pen to limit his innings. Others see that he put on 25 pounds, last winter, in an effort to improve his stamina, and doubt the science behind inning limits. And, of course, since he is 9-1 and we are in the playoff race, taking him out of the rotation would be a hard hit to the team. It is a tough spot for the team. He gets hurt and you'll hear no end of ‘I told you so,' but, if you take him out of the rotation and you miss the playoffs by a game or two, that would be bad too.

I haven't seen enough of Hill to really have an opinion. He does seem to keep the ball in the park (might help that he's playing in Yellowstone O.co, where fly balls go to die). And he isn't walking as many as he has in the past, but I love any starter that strikes out 10+ per 9 innings.

4. What kind of contract do you think Jesse Chavez could demand in free agency next winter? As soon as he was traded, A's fans started wondering about the possibility of signing him back. What are your impressions of his performance so far?

Chavez has either been great or awful for us. He's given up too many home runs, often at the worst possible moment. He seems to pitch well, earn himself higher leverage outings, and then blow up. His role changes weekly (and every time he gets in a high leverage spot he pitches weakly). He's either the long man, pitching us 2-3 innings when we need them, or the setup man who comes into games with runners on base. In that latter role, he hasn't been great, allowing 41% of inherited runners to score.

He's managed to keep his own ERA reasonable, while hurting the ERAs of the pitchers he should be bailing out of trouble. Kind of the perfect life for a pitcher.

I don't know what kind of contract he'll be looking for, he's 32 now and hasn't had a ton of success. I do like the idea of him being in that swing role, spot starting (though he hasn't had a start as a Jay) and he gets strikeouts. If I was him I'd try to sign with a team that I thought could win and enjoy my last few years in the majors.

5. Which of Pat Venditte's throwing arms do you find more compelling?

Venditte has been up and down a few times this season and he hasn't exactly impressed with the major league team. The 2 arm stuff is cool and all, but I'd rather he be able to get guys out with one of the arms. The Jays have needed a second lefty in the bullpen, and that's the role that Pat's been called up to fill, but lefties have his 357/.400/.429 in his 3 short stints with the team. It is a small sample size, but the life of a LOOGY is small sample size.

If I was making the choices for him, I'd tell him to stick to the left, but I'm Canadian, we tend to lean left.

6. Why do the Blue Jays win the AL East this year? Why do they fall short?

Why do we win? Because we are the good guys, good guys should win.

But really. the rotation continues to be terrific. The Jays are leading the league in Quality starts with 59, 10 more than the Indians. Three starters are in the top 10 in the league in ERA and the other two (R.A. Dickey and Marcus Stroman) seem to have figured things out. R.A. always starts slow and Marcus had a tough little stretch but his last few starts have been good. I have no worries about the bats. The bullpen has been a problem, but manager John Gibbons seems to be figuring out which arms he can trust and which ones he can't, so I'm expecting better (not great but better) work from the pen in the second half.

Why we don't win? Injuries to the rotation. We've been very lucky; the same five guys have made all but two starts (both spot starts to give the starting 5 an extra day off). The team isn't deep in starting pitching. If they decide to move Sanchez into the bullpen, then our only reasonable spare starter, Drew Hutchison, would join the rotation. If someone were to go down to injury, we'd be looking at moving Jesse Chavez to the rotation. After that, the picking for starters would be very slim.

Health of the team will be important. The Jays have a number of older players, some with not the best of injury history. We can live with one or two guys, Troy Tulowitzki has missed some time and Jose Bautista is on the DL at the moment, but staying healthy will be important over the second half.

7. Can you please write us a haiku or a limerick about your love for Josh Donaldson?

I think I will never see a poem as lovely as Josh Donaldson ... ummm maybe not.

Minor Leaguer, from our site, suggested this:

Chants of M-V- P
Donaldson stands at the plate
Swings the bat, brings rain

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Thanks for joining us, Tom!

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