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Photo Credit: © Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

Series Preview: Attempting To Jump The Hurdle (Again)

Could this be it? The Jays are, yet again, one game under .500 with an opportunity to hit the mark for the first time this season. The White Sox are rolling into town this weekend and with them comes an excellent opportunity to finally get over the hump.

Friday at 7:07 ET

Usually when you see the White Sox on the schedule, you think “okay, I hope we don’t have to go against Chris Sale or Jose Quintana.” Sale is gone, as we know, and is now a member of the Boston Red Sox. Quintana, on the other hand, has had a hell of a time finding his footing as Chicago’s true ace. Through 13 starts, Quintana has a uncharacteristically bad 5.30 ERA. Over the past three seasons, his ERA was consistently below 3.50, making this sudden decline so curious. It seems the big issue for Quintana has been command, specifically with the fastball, as his walks per nine have jumped up to 3.6, which is by far a career high.

Going for the Jays will be Joe Biagini who, outside of that one horrific inning in Atlanta, has been damn good in the rotation. It’s going to be really tough to slide him back into the ‘pen when Aaron Sanchez returns, because Biagini seems to be really hitting his stride. Over his last two outings against New York and Seattle, Biagini held two strong offences to four runs on nine hits over back-to-back seven inning outings. It seems the more he starts, the better he gets.

Saturday at 1:07 ET

Apparently Mike Pelfrey is still pitching in the Major Leagues! Who knew! Not only is Pelfrey still pitching, he’s also been Chicago best starter so far this season. Well, most successful would probably be the best way to phrase it. The 33-year-old Pelfrey had a real rough go last year in Detroit, but has picked himself back up with the White Sox. He owns a solid 3.81 ERA through 11 starts, though his peripheral numbers (5.4 strikeouts per nine and 3.8 walks per nine) suggest it may come crashing down soon.

With all of the injuries, ups and downs, good and bad we’ve seen this season, one player on the team has been ridiculously consistent. That’s Marcus Stroman. This was supposed to be Aaron Sanchez’s year to solidify himself as the team’s ace after an excellent 2016 in which he led the American League in ERA, but finger issues got in the way. Instead, Stroman has evolved as the 2017 Blue Jays ace, churning out consistently strong starts for an overall 3.09 ERA. Interestingly enough, Stroman’s peripherals, his walks and strikeouts, are similar this year to last, but the difference so far in 2017 has been his ability to paint the ball low in the zone and generate ground ball contact.

Sunday at 1:07 ET

It says TBA, but Sunday’s game will be between J.A. Happ and James Shields.

Shields has been on the disabled list with a right lat strain for a good chunk of the season, but is expected to be activated in time to start Sunday. He’s only made three starts and allowed just one run in each of them. That said, Shields was flirting with disaster, walking five, two, and three batters in those three outings. It’s difficult to say what we’ll get from Shields, who’s ultimately been on a slow spiral downwards the past few years. He was great for the Rays and Royals, logging a lot of innings and leading those team’s rotations, but Shields has struggled since signing a huge contract with the Padres in 2015.

Happ has made three starts since coming off the disabled list. In the first two, you could tell he was just getting his footing, as he only made one rehab start after missing a month of action. But last weekend in Seattle, Happ was excellent. He dominated the Mariners, completely shutting them down over six innings of work. The noticeable improvement for Happ last Sunday was fastball command, as he was painting the bottom corners of the zone as we saw consistently during his great 2016 season.

Thoughts…

The White Sox have been surprisingly better than most people expected they would be this season. With Chris Sale gone and Jose Quintana struggling, the rotation has been in shambles, but the offence has picked up quite a bit of the slack. The Sox have four players mashing at an .800 OPS or higher, led by Avisail Garcia, who’s enjoying a breakout season with a .939 OPS.

Last season, the Sox were weirdly good against the Jays, winning five of the six meetings. Hopefully that isn’t the case this year, as Chicago’s strong offence but poor pitching is a great opportunity for the Jays to make up some more ground in the standings before things get tough.