3 Keys for Toronto Blue Jays Taking Weekend Series vs. New York Yankees

Mohammad Arshad@@WahajArshadCorrespondent IApril 4, 2014

3 Keys for Toronto Blue Jays Taking Weekend Series vs. New York Yankees

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    Kathy Willens

    The Toronto Blue Jays have started off the 2014 season on a fairly high note, splitting a four-game series against a very tough Tampa Bay Rays team at Tropicana Field.

    The Blue Jays will now return to Toronto for their home opener on Friday against the New York Yankees.

    After spending nearly $300 million on offseason upgrades, the Yankees have gotten off to a slow start as they lost two of three games against the Houston Astros.

    Early wins can prove to be crucial in the always tough AL East, so both of these division rivals will be looking to make a statement against each other.

    With that being said, here are three keys to success for the Blue Jays in this upcoming three-game series.

1. Shut Down the 'Tanaka Hype'

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    Kathy Willens

    Japanese pitching sensation Masahiro Tanaka garnered a lot of attention this past offseason when he was posted by the NPB’s Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles and signed with the New York Yankees for a record $155 million over seven years.

    Tanaka will make his much-anticipated first regular-season start on Friday.

    Not only will baseball fans across North America be watching, but a large contingent of Japanese media is expected to be on hand as well.

    Toronto needs to take care in not getting caught in all the “Tanaka hype.”

    Considering that the Blue Jays have never faced Tanaka before, the right-hander, who went 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA last season in Japan, should have the edge early on in the game.

    It’ll be up to the Blue Jays batters to adjust to him quickly and figure out the weaknesses in his game.

    If by chance Tanaka does appear to be shaky in his first major league start, the Blue Jays will need to take advantage of that and jump on him early before he finds his groove.

    Getting a win against Tanaka not only gives Toronto a chance to take an early lead in the series, but it will also raise the team’s image in the eyes of the baseball world.

2. Blue Jays' Starting Rotation Needs to Step Up

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    Brian Blanco/Getty Images

    Toronto’s starting rotation was its biggest concern heading into the 2014 season, and so far, it has already contributed to couple of losses in Tampa Bay.

    The rotation will need to be much better in this series against a powerful Yankees lineup filled with high-priced stars.

    Right-hander Dustin McGowan will be on the mound for the first game of the series as he makes his first big league start since 2008 due to injuries.

    No doubt, emotions will be high, and McGowan will need to keep himself in check in order to have a good outing.

    Considering this will be his first start in such a long period of time, the Blue Jays likely won’t let him throw more than five innings and will keep his pitch count around 75.

    McGowan possesses a mid-90s fastball and has a lot of movement on his off-speed pitches. If he stays healthy, he can make a huge contribution to this rotation.

    Blue Jays ace R.A. Dickey will start during the second game of the series on Saturday.

    The 39-year-old was torched in the first game of the season against the Rays for six runs in five innings.

    He had a lot of difficulty getting his knuckleball over for strikes, as was evidenced by his six walks issued during the outing.

    Against a patient Yankees lineup, it is crucial for Dickey to throw strikes because walking too many batters will likely lead to a similar line he posted against the Rays.

    Drew Hutchison is scheduled to start the third game of the series on Sunday.

    The 23-year-old right-hander was impressive in his first start of the season against the Rays, going 5.1 innings and giving up no runs.

    The Blue Jays will need more of the same from him against the Yankees, although pitching deeper into the game would be a huge plus.

3. Key Hitters in the Blue Jays Lineup Need to Break Out

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    Chris O'Meara

    If the Blue Jays intend to compete this season, they’ll need their lineup to step up and help the team overcome any subpar performances from the starting rotation.

    This wasn’t the case against Tampa Bay as Toronto scored just 11 runs in its first four games.

    Granted, much of this has to do with the fact that the Rays have very good pitching, but several key Blue Jays visibly struggled with the bat all series.

    Cleanup hitter Edwin Encarnacion had just one hit and seven strikeouts in 16 at-bats.

    Brett Lawrie had one hit in 14 at-bats.

    Colby Rasmus, who moved up to the No. 2 spot in the lineup following an injury to Jose Reyes, also had just one hit with six strikeouts in 14 at-bats.

    While it’s still way too early to be concerned, the Blue Jays need these three players in their lineup to start hitting in this upcoming series.

    Compared to the pitchers they faced at Tropicana Field, it should be an easier task matching up against New York’s pitching.

    After facing Tanaka on Friday, Toronto will see CC Sabathia and Michael Pineda in the other two games of the series.

    Sabathia struggled in his first start of the season against the Astros, giving up six runs in six innings.

    Pineda hasn’t made a start these past two years as he’s struggled with injuries. His start on Sunday will be his first of the 2014 season.

    Facing these starters should give some of the Blue Jays batters that have been struggling a chance to break out and get going.

    Considering the question marks in both of these teams' rotations, this series could turn out to be a high-scoring affair.