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Photo Credit: © Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

Series Preview: Another Prime Opportunity

The Blue Jays were given the perfect opportunity to bring their season back to life, and so far, they’ve capitalized on it. They swept the broken Mariners in four games, and now they’ll play a home-and-home four-game series with the rebuilding Atlanta Braves.

Monday at 7:07 ET

Big Sexy Bartolo Colon, the ageless wonder, will start for Atlanta in the series opener on Monday. Through seven starts so far this season, the 44-year-old owns a 7.22 ERA, the worst of any qualified pitcher in the major leagues, and has allowed more than four runs five different times. I don’t think this is what the Braves figured they were getting when they inked Colon to a one-year $12.5 million deal last winter, but at his age, falling off a cliff was inevitable. The big difference for Colon this season to last is that his fastball and sinker are both getting hammered, yet oddly enough, neither has dipped at all in velocity.

Regardless, Colon is a pitcher the Jays, even with a decimated lineup, should hit. The more run support for Mike Bolsinger the better, too. Bolsinger made his first start as a Blue Jay last week against Cleveland, and was quite solid, holding the Clevelanders to two earned runs over five-and-two-thirds innings. Command was a bit of an issue for Bolsinger, who relied heavily on the curveball last time out. There’s a very good chance this could be a high scoring game, but Bolsinger’s first start does warrant some confidence, as he’s clearly been the best of the depth pitchers from Triple-A that the Jays have used so far this season.

Tuesday at 4:07 ET

It doesn’t seem like very long ago that Jaime Garcia was one of the game’s better young pitchers, but injuries, including Tommy John surgery, have sort of derailed his career. He missed most of 2013 and 2014, had an excellent bounce back season in 2015, and struggled in his first full season of work last year, and was ultimately traded to the Braves in the offseason for a handful of prospects. Garcia relies on a fastball, sinker, slider arsenal, and while his velocity hasn’t dipped since his early days, the movement on the ball certainly has, making him less of a strikeout threat than before. Garcia has also struggled with command, and issue he’s always had, but this year he’s walking 4.6 batters per nine innings.

If you take away his two poor starts in Tampa Bay, Marco Estrada has only allowed seven runs in 38 innings. That’s really, really good. It’s pretty much an automatic at this point when Estrada goes out there you’re going to get six innings and two or fewer earned runs, and thus, a very good opportunity to win the game. Perhaps the most interesting thing about Estrada’s 2017 season so far is the increase in strikeouts, which have consistently risen since joining the Blue Jays in 2015. This year, Estrada is striking out 9.7 batters per nine, thanks largely to an increase in his changeup usage.

Wednesday at 7:35 ET

Joe Biagini’s transition into the starting rotation has been seamless. Through two starts, he’s tossed nine innings and has yet to allow a run while holding opponents to just six hits. Biagini, as we know, was a starter all the way up through the minor leagues, and was tossed into the ‘pen last spring so that the Jays wouldn’t have to give him back to San Fransisco. When everybody is healthy, it’s going to be difficult to move Biagini back to the bullpen, because as valuable as he is in the later innings, his talent and pitch arsenal is being wasted there.

Going for Atlanta will be Mike Foltynewicz, a former top prospect who hasn’t yet found his footing at the big league level. Foltynewicz owns a 4.04 ERA through seven appearances so far this season, a number ballooned largely due to one vary bad start. Against St. Louis, he allowed seven runs in four innings, but otherwise, Foltynewicz hasn’t allowed more than two runs in his five other starts. He throws the standard fastball, sinker, slider, change arsenal, and relies mostly on the hard stuff. His changeup has been an issue this year, as it’s being drilled for a .385 batting average against.

Thursday at 7:35 ET

Julio Teheran is the ace of the Braves staff, I think. He was their opening day starter, and got off to quite a strong start to the season, allowing only two runs in his first 19 innings pitched. But since then? It’s been up and down, which is pretty much how you would describe Teheran’s career in general. His ERA sits at 4.08 right now, and he’s walking (4.3/9) nearly as many batters as he’s striking out (6.6/9), which is never a good sign. The problem for Teheran from this season to last seems to come down to his slider, which is being taken for a ball more often in 2017 than 2016, and is also generating fewer swings and misses.

We were worried last week that Marcus Stroman’s Breakout Tour was going to have a bit of a blip, but since being forced to leave that game in New York after just three innings, Stroman has put up back-to-back solid starts against Cleveland and Seattle. Stroman has been allowing a lot of contact, but by painting the bottom of the zone, he’s become one of baseball’s elite at generating ground balls. As a result, he’s better than pretty much anybody at working out of jams, giving his defence opportunities to frequently turn double plays.

Thoughts

We won’t see R.A. Dickey over the series, which is probably a good thing. Dickey pitching against the Jays has the potential to be tremendously frustrating. Also, if he had pitched in Toronto, some idiots might have felt the need to boo him, which would have been sad and hard to watch. Dickey wasn’t the Cy Young winner he was in 2012 with the Mets during his four seasons here, but he was damn good, and without him, the team likely wouldn’t have made the playoffs in 2015. He’s also a great person, which rises above whatever he did or didn’t do on the field.

The Braves feature a below-average offence that doesn’t hit for much power. The offence on this team has been carried almost entirely by Freddie Freeman, who’s sporting a ridiculous 1.197 OPS through his first 152 plate appearances. Nick Markakis and Matt Kemp also add depth to the lineup, but otherwise, this really is a one-man team. And, while the Jays have a beaten down, borderline Triple-A lineup, the Braves aren’t really that much better off. This is a series Toronto should win, and if they can somehow manage to earn the sweep, they’ll be all the way back at .500, which is something nobody expected to happen at least until the summer, if at all.

Let’s keep streaking!

  • Knuckle Balls

    Well put. I think the Jays with Stroman, Estrada, and the Gini will be in these games to win it. Arm slinger I think is a toss up depending on how patient the Braves are on his curve ball, that game could get interesting and as stated could be a high scoring game.