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Photo Credit: © Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Series Preview: Two Teams Still Alive In Unlikely Playoff Races

Competitive baseball in August! Against the Pittsburgh Pirates who, surprisingly, are still alive in a playoff race! Sound familiar?

Friday at 7:07 ET

Jameson Taillon was having a very good follow-up to his 2016 breakout season, but things have kind of gone off the rails as of late. Taillon made back-to-back starts failing to get past the fourth inning, allowing nine and eight runs, ballooning his earned run average from 3.08 all the way to 4.74. He had a solid outing in his last start, but it came against the terrible Padres. I wouldn’t look too far into Taillon’s two bad outings and assume he’s ripe to get rocked by the Jays on Friday. He’s a good, young pitcher, and as we know, everyone is prone to terrible outings.

He’ll go against Marcus Stroman, who will look to end the Curse of Friday Nights for the Blue Jays. Stroman has been damn damn daaaaaaamn good this season, emerging as the team’s ace in the wake of disaster. Stroman owns a 3.17 ERA, and while his peripheral stats match last season’s, he’s done a much better job at working his way out of the jams that inevitably come with being a pitch-to-contact type starter.

Saturday at 1:07 ET

Trevor Williams, who started the season as a relief arm in Pittsburgh’s bullpen, is coming off the best start of his career, as he held the Tigers to just one hit over seven shutout innings. Williams isn’t overpowering, as he’s averaged just 6.5 strikeouts per nine this season, but he does a good job at limiting hard contact and navigating the zone.

That’s the same story with Chris Rowley, the undrafted free agent signing who took one of the most unlikely paths to the big leagues. Rowley, who I wrote about yesterday, went undrafted not because he wasn’t good, but because of military commitment. Now, after serving two years in the American Army and two seasons dominating in Toronto’s minor league system, Rowley will become the first West Point Black Knight to make a big league start. He’ll also be the 12th different pitcher to make a start for the Blue Jays this season.

Sunday at 1:07 ET

After a disastrously bad start to the season in which his ERA got as high as 6.29 in mid-May, Chad Kuhl has settled down, proving himself to be a solid back-of-the-rotation stater for the Pirates. Since the beginning of June, Kuhl has allowed more than three runs in a start just twice and has cleared five innings in 11 of 12 starts. He isn’t overpowering, but has allowed the fewest home runs per nine innings (0.7) of any pitcher in the National League.

He’ll go against J.A. Happ, who will face the team that helped resurrect his career for the first time since leaving them in free agency. Happ spent 11 starts with the Pirates in 2015, posting a ridiculous 1.85 ERA. It was there he learned a new approach to pitching and became the very good top-of-the-rotation stater that we never saw during his first stint in Toronto. Save for one bad start against Houston, Happ has been excellent as of late, surrendering no more than three earned runs in all but two starts since coming off of the disabled list in May.

Thoughts…

The Pirates, much like the Blue Jays, are shockingly still alive in a playoff race. They’re only three games back of the Chicago Cubs, who don’t seem interested in defending their World Series crown, in the National league Central, despite not expecting to compete this season.

A big reason for their surprising success has been Andrew McCutchen’s return to his star form. After a terrible 2016 season, McCutchen has a .897 OPS in 2017, the best on the Pirates. Pittsburgh also has a very good bullpen, led by Juan Nicasio (???) who has a 2.58 ERA over a league-leading 57 appearances. He pitches in that Andrew Miller, middle innings kind of role, going up in high leverage situations at random points in the game.