Battle of the Boys in Blue: Dodgers Series Preview

Toronto Blue Jays vs. Los Angeles Dodges

May 6th – May 8th

Written by Eric Mercer and Gideon Turk

Things have certainly turned around for the Blue Jays since being swept by the White Sox a week ago. They have won back to back series, taking two of three from the Rays and three of four from the Rangers. Most encouraging from these games however is not the results, but rather that signs of life in the offense are now visible. Thursday’s 12-2 thumping of the Rangers saw the Blue Jays strike out a grand total of zero times, a nice change from their free swinging ways of April. Against the Dodgers, the Jays will be in tough because of some solid pitching, but they may be coming into this matchup at the perfect time if they want to hit Kershaw and Co.

Pitching Matchups:

May 6th – 7:07 PM ET

Marcus Stroman vs. Kenta Maeda

The Jays ace will be taking the mound in the opening game against the LA Dodgers. Stroman is coming off of his best start of the season, where he went eight innings, allowing only one run on three hits and striking out nine. He has a rather uninspiring ERA of 3.77 but he has clearly been better than that number indicates. In a few outings this season, Stroman has faltered late in the game and has left runners on base for relievers…all of whom have come around to score. Of course, this isn’t to say that this is the bullpen’s fault, as Stroman should be able to finish the game as well he starts it, but the relievers should strand at least some runners. Last game against Tampa was a big step for Stroman, as he finally started getting some strikeouts. The majority of the Dodgers are completely unfamiliar with Stroman, which should give him an advanged considering the drastic movement on almost all of his pitches.

The Jays will try and keep their bats going in the first game of the series against Japanese “rookie” Kenta Maeda. Maeda has had a masterful beginning to his MLB campaign, pitching to the tune of a 1.41 ERA in 32 innings. He has also struck out 28 batters while walking only six. He throws only 43 percent fastballs, and his premier out-pitch is the slider, which he has thrown 31 percent of the time and generates a lot of swings and misses (27 percent whiff rate). Maeda will also sprinkle in a changeup and a curveball to compliment the rest of his arsenal. Like Stroman for the Dodgers, the Jays will be going into this one a bit blind.

May 7th – 1:07 PM ET

R.A. Dickey vs. Clayton Kershaw

Saturday’s matchup features two former Cy-Young winners and, like Stroman, R.A. Dickey is coming off the best start of his season. Dickey went six and a third against the Rangers giving up one run, on six hits and three walks. Not an amazing outing by any stretch but if Dickey truly performs better the farther he gets away from April then that start might be an indication he is coming around. The biggest thing for him will be his command. If he’s throwing strikes, the Jays have a chance. If not, Toronto better hope that knuckler is dancing.

Clayton Kershaw! For the first time ever, The Best Pitcher in the World will be pitching at the Rogers Centre. Kershaw has not been outside the top three in Cy-Young voting for the past five seasons and he has won three of them. Because he pitches in the NL, this is a rare treat that should mean a full house at the Rogers Centre. This season, Kershaw has been exceptional. He has an ERA of 1.96 in 46 innings and struck out 54 batters while walking three. Three! That is truly mind boggling. Look for some knee-buckling curveballs that he’ll mix with a very solid slider. Hopefully Toronto’s bats are still hot because they will need to be at their best if the Jays have a chance.

May 8th – 1:07 PM ET

Marco Estrada vs. Ross Stripling

Marco Estrada is yet another Jays starting pitcher who has been sensational to start the season. Are you sensing a theme? Estrada has a 2.64 ERA in 30 innings and struck out 28. His 9.6 percent walk rate is cause for concern if it continues, but last outing he only issued one free pass in six innings of work. Only Justin Turner and Joc Pederson are what you would call “flyball” hitters on the Dodgers roster, so it’ll be interesting to see how Estrada’s popup style works against a groundball hitting team.

Finally, the Jays face a pitcher who doesn’t have an ERA that begins with a one. Ross Stripling is a rookie who had two really good starts at the beginning of the season but has faltered a little since then. He has a 4.33 ERA and hasn’t gotten through six innings in any of his last three starts. His arsenal is a very traditional fastball, curve, slider, and changeup and none of them produce insane swing and miss rates. Hopefully Toronto can do some damage here.

Additions and Subtractions

The Blue Jays have not made any transactions of late since calling up Chad Girodo and going to an eight man bullpen earlier in the week. Matt Dominguez was sent down, meaning he cannot be recalled for 10 days, so there’s a good chance we could see Andy Burns if the Jays decided to lengthen their bench.

Update: Burns has indeed been called up, with Ryan Tepera having been sent to Buffalo. This means the Blue Jays 40-man roster is now set at 39.

As stable as the Blue Jays have been, the Dodgers have been even stabler, not making any moves since April.

Keep an Eye On

Blue Jays Starting Pitching

The biggest concern coming into the season for the Blue Jays was their starting pitching and how they would fare without a supposed “ace.” Five weeks into the season and the starters have been keeping this team afloat, and their stats show it. They are tied with the Cubs and Nationals for first place in baseball in IP/game, are sixth in ERA, and despite not having any real flamethrowers apart from Aaron Sanchez, have the highest soft hit average in baseball at .433. They won’t need to keep this up if the offense wakes up, but if they do, watch out.

Dodgers Young Phenoms

These two teams don’t play each other very often, so if you want to get a taste of what the Dodgers will look like over the next few years, keep your eyes glued to Corey Seager and Joc Pederson at shortstop and in center field, respectively. Seager has been one of the top prospects in baseball over the past few seasons, and after a very successful cup of coffee with L.A. in 2015, he is now manning the shortstop position full time. He has struggled a bit this season, only slashing .252/.322/.398, but because of some  very solid defense, has still managed to be pretty valuable to the Dodgers.

Pederson played a full season with the Dodgers in 2015, and now in his sophomore season, has not slowed down a bit. He is slashing .265/.386/.500, and has maintained his excellent 15.7% BB% that he had in 2015. However, he is striking out over 30% of the time he steps to the plate, so there are still things for Young Joc to work on.

Tulo’s Slump

While the rest of the offense decided on Thursday that scoring is better than not scoring, Troy Tulowitzki is still struggling immensely to get going. With a hit in last night’s game, he is still only batting .163/.267/.317, and has been seeing a large number of hittable pitches swoop by him in recent days. It could be age catching up to him, but even then, a drop off this steep was not expected. He has been too good of a hitter to stay like this, but the days of silver slugging winning Troy Tulowitzki seem pretty far away.

Probable Lineup

Los Angeles Dodgers

Toronto Blue Jays

Chase Utley-2B Michael Saunders-LF
Corey Seager-SS Josh Donaldson-3B
Justin Turner-3B Jose Bautista-RF
Adrian Gonzalez-1B Edwin Encarnacion-DH
Yasiel Puig-RF Troy Tulowitzki-SS
Yasmani Grandal-C Justin Smoak-1B
Howie Kendrick – DH Kevin Pillar-CF
Joc Pederson-CF Russell Martin-C
Carl Crawford-LF Ryan Goins-2B

via Roster Resource

Final Thoughts

This will obviously be a tough matchup for the Blue Jays, facing a really good overall team like the Dodgers. However, with the calendar flipped to May, the offense showed signs this week that they may be ready to turn a corner. If they can get even a few runs for their starters per game, that has been enough many times this season. Now, if only the bullpen will be able to hold some leads.

Lead Photo: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

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