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Photo Credit: © Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

Series Preview: West Coast Basement

After staying above water against the Yankees last weekend, the Jays will have an excellent opportunity to reach .500 for the first time this season when they play three games with the basement-dwelling Oakland Athletics.

Monday at 10:05 ET

The most difficult test the Jays will have in the three-games series against Oakland will come in the first game. Sean Manaea, the former first round pick of the Royals who was acquired by the A’s back in 2015 for Ben Zobrist, has easily been Oakland’s best starter this season. Through 11 starts, Manaea has a 3.91 ERA which is solid, but is also much higher than his peripherals suggest it should be. He’s holding hitters to 5.8 hits per nine and is striking out 10.1 per nine, though 3.5 walks per nine is somewhat concerning. Manaea’s best pitch is his slider. He uses it as his finisher when ahead in the count and it seldom gets hit, especially by righties.

J.A. Happ will make his second start since coming off the disabled list with elbow inflammation. In his first outing, which came after just one rehab appearance in Single-A Dunedin, Happ lasted four innings allowing two runs, both on solo homers. He wasn’t spectacular, but most importantly, Happ didn’t feel any pain in his elbow at all. As he continues to pitch, the rust will come off.

Tuesday at 10:05 ET

Jesse Hahn will make his first start since May 23 on Tuesday. He was placed on the 10-day disabled list with a right triceps sprain, which could explain his last starts. Before landing on the DL, Hahn got drilled for five runs over just two innings by the Miami Marlins. Aside from that, Hahn has been excellent this season. He started the season with five-consecutive starts in which he went at least six innings and allowed three or fewer runs. In fact, that Marlins game was the only time Hahn has allowed more than three earned runs in a game this season. He doesn’t strike many guys out, and his stuff isn’t overwhelming, but when Hahn is going well, his pitches have a lot of break and he induces a lot of soft contact.

Sound familiar? Marco Estrada had a rough time last week against the Yankees, failing to make it past the fifth inning for the first time in 2017 and allowing a season-high seven runs. Since joining the Blue Jays in 2015, Estrada hasn’t faced the Athletics. He faced them once back in 2013 with Milwaukee, getting shelled for five runs over four innings. That’s obviously completely irrelevant now because the A’s are a totally different team and Estrada is a different pitcher. Expect Estrada to have a good start on Tuesday as the A’s are unfamiliar with his array of tricky pitches. No matter how much tape you watch, you can’t really prepare for Estrada’s ability to change speed and command the zone.

Wednesday at 3:35 ET

Jharel Cotton’s rookie season has been all over the grid. He was acquired by the A’s last fall in a big trade in which Oakland sent Josh Reddick and Rich Hill to the Dodgers. Cotton was the centrepiece of the deal and had a very good showing over five starts to close out 2016. This year, though, he’s been enigmatic. He’s had a few good starts, a handful of bad ones, and was sent down to Triple-A in the middle of it. Since coming back up, though, Cotton has had back-to-back solid outings. Cotton throws a good fastball and changeup, but doesn’t feature anything plus after that. He also doesn’t have the typical body of a pitcher, tends to use max effort to overpower hitters, and ends up tiring out early in games.

Also somewhat of an enigma is Francisco Liriano, who will start for the Blue Jays on Wednesday afternoon. Liriano went on the DL with inflammation in his shoulder, which would likely explain what the hell was going on in his two starts before that. Before hitting the DL, Liriano couldn’t throw a strike, and didn’t make it past the fourth inning in back-to-back starts. In his return, Liriano was excellent. He dominated the Yankees over five innings and probably could have gone further if not for a pitch limit.

Thoughts…

Nobody in the American League allows more runs than Oakland does. This isn’t necessarily because their pitching is bad, though. According to FanGraphs, they’re baseball’s worst defensive team by a pretty massive margin. So while the last 600 words I spilled kind of goes over how solid Oakland’s pitchers we’ll see appear to be, the team gives a lot back with poor fielding.

Oakland also doesn’t score a hell of a lot of runs. Their 4.16 runs per game is right behind Toronto and is well below average in the American League. One thing they can do, though, is hit home runs. Khris Davis and Yonder Alonso (who’s enjoying a breakout season right now) have combined for 33 bombs already, which is impressive considering how massive Oakland Colosseum is.

In sum, this is a winnable series for the Blue Jays. Oakland owns the worst record in the AL, and there’s a reason for that. Their lineup is powerful, but has many holes in it. Their starting pitching is decent, but their fielding is so bad they allow more runs than they should. The Jays are within striking distance of .500 for the first time this season, and it would be disappointing if they didn’t hit that point by the end of this series. Hopefully you all are awake to witness it.