Photo Credit: Kelley L. Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Series Preview: Two Bad Teams Playing Baseball

Moneyball? Bad ball? Celler ball? Seller ball? Whatever you want to call it, this is a four-game series between two of the worst teams in the American League. Most believe the Jays are firmly out of it by this point, but I think a loss in this series would firmly shove the nail into the coffin for those who still have hope. Are you excited yet?!

Monday at 7:07 ET

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No, not the Blue Jays reliever Chris Smith. It’s the other one. The one who is making his third career major league start at the age of 36 after bouncing around in Boston, San Diego, and Milwaukee’s systems for over a decade. Smith has made two starts this season, and both have been very good. In total, Smith has tossed 13 innings, surrendering just four earned runs on nine hits and three walks. He’s not an overwhelming pitcher, but he pounds the strike zone and is effective in inducing soft contact by mixing pitches and speeds. He’ll go against Francisco Liriano who’s had a couple of miserable starts. Last weekend, Liriano was pulled after two plus innings with neck soreness, and in his last outing against Boston, he didn’t make it past the second.

Tuesday at 7:07 ET

Unless he’s traded first, Sonny Gray will likely make his final start as a member of the Oakland Athletics on Tuesday. After emerging as an ace pitcher in 2015, Gray has had a couple of disappointing seasons in 2016 and 2017 due to injury. He owns a 3.66 ERA through 15 starts and is arguably the best pitcher available at next week’s trade deadline. He’ll go up against Cesar Valdez who’s pitching in Aaron Sanchez’s spot in the rotation. Valdez, who was waived by Oakland earlier this season, had a very good showing in relief of Sanchez last week in Boston. The veteran swingman tossed four innings, shutting the Sox down to just one hit while striking out five.

Wednesday at 7:07 ET

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Acquired last winter in the trade that sent Danny Valencia to Seattle, Paul Blackburn has been solid starts in his rookie stint with the A’s this season. He owns a 2.88 ERA through four starts, though doesn’t possess overpowering or dominant stuff, as his 3.2 strikeouts per nine innings would suggest. Blackburn was never really a top prospect, but has consistently been successful at the minor league level because of his ability to work the zone and generate weak contact. He’ll go against Marco Estrada, who’s struggles have now spanned nearly two months. Since June 1, Estrada has made it out of the fifth inning just twice, and his ERA has ballooned all the way to 5.52.

Thursday at 12:37 ET

We saw Sean Manaea back when the Jays travelled to Oakland in early June. He allowed two runs on four hits and three walks over six innings, picking up the win. He owns a 3.81 ERA and is striking out 8.7 batters per inning through 18 starts this season, though can struggle with command at times. The Jays starter hasn’t been announced for Thursday’s finale yet, but it’s Marcus Stroman’s spot in the rotation. He has had issues with a blister, though that didn’t seem to hinder him too much in his last start in Cleveland.

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The Oakland Athletics have the second-worst record in the American League right now. Well, they’re tied for second-worst. Who with? You guessed it! The Blue Jays. A week ago, I looked at this series and 10-game stretch against Oakland, Anaheim, and Chicago as one that could help propel the Jays back into Wild Card contention. But after an ugly road trip out of the All-Star break, it’ll take a 10-game winning streak just to get back to .500.