3 Keys for Toronto Blue Jays Taking Upcoming Series vs. Minnesota Twins

Mohammad Arshad@@WahajArshadCorrespondent IApril 14, 2014

3 Keys for Toronto Blue Jays Taking Upcoming Series vs. Minnesota Twins

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    After taking two of three games against the Baltimore Orioles, the Toronto Blue Jays will continue their road trip as they head to Minnesota for a three-game set against the Twins.

    Toronto now has a 7-6 record and is tied for first place in the AL East.

    Minnesota is coming off a sweep of the Kansas City Royals and is sitting at .500 with a 6-6 record.

    The Blue Jays held the advantage when these two teams played each other last season, going 5-1 against the Twins.

    Getting another series win on the road here would be huge for Toronto as it looks stay ahead of its AL East rivals.

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

1. R.A. Dickey and Brandon Morrow Need to Perform Better

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    Brandon Morrow will start Game 1 of this series while R.A. Dickey will start Game 2.

    Before the season started, Dickey and Morrow were both expected to be the front-line starters in Toronto’s rotation.

    Dickey was the Opening Day starter and was widely acknowledged as the team’s ace.

    Morrow has always had some of the best stuff in the rotation, and after an injury-plagued season last year, he was supposed to be finally putting it all together in 2014.

    But both of these pitchers have struggled out of the gate.

    Dickey has lost two of his first three starts and has posted a 5.30 ERA in 18.2 innings pitched.

    Command has been a major issue for the 39-year-old knuckleballer, as evidenced by the 10 walks he’s already issued.

    Considering that Dickey is a fly-ball pitcher who gives up his share of home runs and extra-base hits, those walks end up making it difficult for him to limit the damage in the event that his knuckleball gets hit hard.

    Morrow has had his own problems, as he’s given up seven earned runs in just 11 innings of work.

    The good news for the team is that the right-hander did have a decent outing in his second start, as he pitched six innings of three-run ball against the Astros. He’ll need to build off that in his next start.

    Both Dickey and Morrow need to step up and pitch to their capabilities in order for the team to have a good chance of taking this series.

    Pitching in the large confines of Target Field should be a big help as well, especially for Dickey.

2. Toronto’s Hitters Need to Continue Having Success at Target Field

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    Target Field has developed a reputation as a pitcher-friendly ballpark, but that certainly hasn't been the case when the Blue Jays have played there.

    Last season, Toronto scored a whopping 19 runs in just three games played at Target Field.

    Several of the Blue Jays’ key hitters, such as Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, have also had a great deal of success playing at Minnesota’s home ballpark.

    Bautista has absolutely worn out the Twins during his 11 career games at Target Field, hitting .362/.423/1.043 with 10 home runs, 15 runs batted in and 11 runs scored.

    Encarnacion has also been very effective, as he’s hit .356/.434/.778 with six home runs, 12 runs scored and 14 RBI in 13 games played there.

    Success in the ballpark aside, Toronto also has a chance to capitalize against a Minnesota pitching staff that has labored early on this season.

    The Twins are currently ranked 14th in the American League with a 5.17 team ERA and have allowed opponents to hit .278 against them.

    This bodes well for a Blue Jays team that has had trouble scoring runs at times this season.

    Despite an 11-run outburst in its last game, Toronto’s batters are still only hitting .228/.300/.394 collectively as a group.

    Playing a series in a ballpark where the team has hit well in the past could really help get the offense going.

3. Don’t Underestimate Minnesota’s Offense

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    While their pitching may be struggling, the Twins are still at the .500 mark largely due to their offense performing well.

    Going into this series, Minnesota ranks third in the AL with 67 runs scored and has a team OBP of .340.

    As mentioned previously, the Twins are coming off a sweep of the Kansas City Royals. They scored 21 runs in that series and even roughed up Royals ace James Shields.

    What's remarkable about this offensive burst by the Twins is that they've done it without getting a lot of production from their lone All-Star in Joe Mauer.

    Mauer has had a slow start by his standards, hitting .286/.386/.388 with just four RBI in 12 games played.

    But several of the Twins’ other hitters, such as Chris Colabello (12 hits and 14 RBI in 12 games), Trevor Plouffe (15 hits and nine runs scored in 12 games) and Jason Kubel (15 hits in 11 games), have picked up the slack.

    So while Minnesota’s offense lacks the star power, Toronto’s pitchers would do well not to underestimate it, or this could quickly become a high-scoring series.