3 Keys for Toronto Blue Jays Taking Upcoming Series vs. Cleveland Indians
Toronto now has an 8-8 record overall and is second in the American League East.
Cleveland has a 7-8 record and is coming off a two-game split against the Detroit Tigers.
The Blue Jays had their difficulties against the Indians last season, going 2-4 in the six games played between the two teams.
With the standings in the AL East already tightening up—the Tampa Bay Rays and the Boston Red Sox are tied for last place with seven wins—Toronto needs to keep the victories coming in order to keep pace with its rivals.
That being said, here are the three keys to success for the Blue Jays in this upcoming series.
1. Move on from the Disastrous Series Against Minnesota
Toronto won the first game of a three-game set against the Minnesota Twins on Tuesday, and everything went cold from there…literally.
Heavy snowfall caused the second game of the series to be postponed and a day-night doubleheader was scheduled for Thursday in order to make up the lost game.
Both of those games ended up being demoralizing losses for the Blue Jays.
R.A. Dickey started the day game and was pummeled for five runs in just 4.1 innings. Toronto lost the game by a score of 7-0.
The second game was even worse and won’t be as easily forgotten.
Toronto actually got off to a decent start in this game as it scored two runs in the first inning and then added three more in the fifth to jump ahead to 5-1 lead.
But starting pitcher Dustin McGowan struggled to hold back the Twins offense, giving up three runs in just four innings before being forced to leave with a high pitch count.
The bullpen did an admirable job keeping the score at 5-3 until the bottom of the eighth inning; that’s when everything fell apart.
Toronto’s relievers walked eight batters during the inning and threw three wild pitches that each led to a run being scored.
By the end of the inning, the Twins had scored six runs on eight walks and just one hit.
The Blue Jays went on to lose the game 9-5 in what was easily the worst defeat of the season.
While this was a series win that the team let slip away, Toronto needs to move on and not dwell on these last two games when facing the Indians.
It’s important to note that the Blue Jays bullpen was spectacular last year and had been reliable again this season until this last game, so there’s no reason to think it won’t bounce back.
2. The Starting Pitching Needs to Step Up
Drew Hutchison is slated to start the first game of the series. Mark Buehrle will start Game 2 while Dickey should be in line to start the third game.
After missing all of last year with Tommy John surgery, Hutchison has been a pleasant surprise for the Blue Jays early on in the 2014 season.
The young right-hander is 1-1 with a 3.68 ERA in three starts. His fastball has topped 94 mph and his off-speed pitches have been sharp.
Buehrle has been easily the best pitcher in the starting rotation at this point. The 35-year-old has gone 3-0 with a 0.86 ERA in three starts.
Dickey, on the other hand, has really struggled out of the gate this season. He’s currently 1-3 with a 6.26 ERA in four starts.
He’ll be looking to bounce back against an Indians offense that is currently ranked fourth in the AL with 69 runs scored.
A big problem for Toronto’s starting pitchers lately has been their inability to get deep into games.
This was on display during the team’s last series against the Twins in which not a single starter pitched five complete innings.
Having a starter getting knocked out of the game early not only makes it difficult for the offense to battle back from a deficit, but it also puts a lot of pressure on the bullpen which is forced to throw extra innings.
The starting pitchers in this upcoming three-game set will need to reverse that trend and pitch more innings.
As long as Buehrle and Hutchison continue pitch the way they have all season, the Blue Jays should have a good chance to win those two games and take the series.
3. The Team Needs to Find a Consistent Offensive Approach
Toronto’s offense has been wildly inconsistent early on this season.
During games in which the offense has clicked, the Blue Jays have hit the ball hard and scored in bunches. This explains why Toronto is ranked third in the AL in home runs and sixth in runs scored.
But a look at some of the team’s other hitting stats paints a disturbing picture.
The Blue Jays have a team batting average of just .235 and an OBP of .310. They rank in the bottom half of the AL in both of those categories.
Several key players on the team have also struggled to get on base and produce at a consistent level.
Third baseman Brett Lawrie is second on the team with 10 runs driven in, but he is hitting just .131/.169/.279. Outfielder Colby Rasmus, another key contributor in the lineup, is hitting a very pedestrian .222/.276/.463.
Aside from the key players, the Blue Jays have also gotten very little production from the bottom of their lineup. Ryan Goins, Jonathan Diaz and Moises Sierra have combined for just 12 hits in 83 at-bats.
The good news for the team is that All-Star shortstop Jose Reyes is due back from the DL on Saturday in time for the second game of the series.
Getting back Reyes, who hit .296/.353/.427 in 93 games last season, should be a huge boost for Toronto’s offense.
While the home run power has been there and they've hit mediocre pitchers hard, the Blue Jays need to be more consistent when it comes to getting on base and hitting for a higher average.
That’s the only way the team will score runs when it faces top pitchers who don’t give up long balls.