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Orioles vs. Blue Jays, May 11-13. Series Preview.

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The Orioles return home after a nine game road trip, looking to get things back on track.

Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports

The Story So Far:

For the first time in more than two weeks, the Orioles will play in front of a home crowd. After the White Sox series was delayed, I thought for sure the Monday night game would be close to selling out as a lot of fans would be anxious to cheer on their team again, especially given the circumstances under which those games were postponed or moved. That may still be the case, though after that road trip there may not be quite as many fans as there otherwise would have been. Losing hurts attendance, and the Orioles are losing right now. On the one hand, they went 3-6 on the road trip, falling three games under .500 and into last place in the division. On the other hand though, they lost two games by only two runs and two games by only one run. Their run differential is still at +5. The starters went six or more innings in five of the nine games, compared to the previous nine where that happened four times. The defense has also improved, committing only four errors on the road trip, compared to 12 in the nine games before that. Having J.J Hardy back has probably helped that, and he hit his first home run on Sunday in only his fourth game back, much faster than it took him to hit his first one last year. Things are not good right now, but there's still reason for optimism.

The Blue Jays are doing a little better. They're currently 16-16, good for third in the division and four games behind the Yankees. They're 6-4 over their last ten games, splitting a four game series with Cleveland, but taking two of three from both the Yankees and Red Sox. They've played the Orioles very well this year, going 5-1 against them. But how does this series look?

Pitching Matchups

Monday: Ubaldo Jimenez vs. Marco Estrada

Jimenez has two outings against the Blue Jays this year, one good and one not. His good start was his first of the year, when he shocked everyone by pitching seven innings, striking out eight, walking zero and giving up no earned runs. His second outing in Toronto was not awful - he gave up four earned runs over five innings off two home runs, but still struck out six and only walked three. Hopefully being back in Baltimore will result in something more like that first start. His other start in Baltimore was that empty stadium game against the White Sox where he also went seven innings without giving up any runs.

Marco Estrada is new to the Blue Jays this year. He started the year in the bullpen, but just made his first start on May 5th against the Yankees and did not pitch well, giving up four runs in 4.2 innings. In his career (mostly in the National League) he has 72 games as a starter, with a 22-21 record and an ERA of 4.24. Not great, but his SO/W in those starts is a healthy 3.75. He seems to be a strikeout type guy, with a career SO9 of 8.4. Given the Orioles problem with striking out this year, that's probably not a good sign.

Tuesday: Chris Tillman vs. Mark Buehrle

Mark Buehrle has seen the Orioles twice already this year. Even though the Blue Jays won both those games, Buehrle has not pitched particularly well in either start. In total he's gone 12 innings, giving up five earned runs and only striking out three. But he's not really a strikeout type guy (he has no more than four in any start this year). He's 36 years old and makes up for his decreased velocity with a lot of well placed pitches. But the Orioles have some guys who love to see left-handers. Delmon Young is 22 for 56 against him with four home runs...I'd expect he'll be in the lineup. Adam Jones is 16 for 37 with two home runs. Even Chris Davis is 8 for 25 with two home runs. The team has seen this guy a lot and can do some damage.

I wonder if Tillman is starting to regret not taking whatever extension offer the Orioles offered him before the season started. Probably not - I'm sure he expects to turn things around, but still - this is not how he or the team expected things to go. He's currently 2-4 with a 6.25 ERA. He's only struck out 23 while walking 18. And in his last start against the Yankees he gave up 10 hits. None of this is good, and his two starts against the Blue Jays so far have been especially bad - he gave up seven runs each time and couldn't make it through five innings in either. Ouch. His career ERA against the Blue Jays is 5.12. Hopefully Tillman gets back to being the guy he was that allowed him to make the All-Star team in 2013...but my guess is this game will not be what gets him started there. In fact, between him and Buehrle, I wouldn't be surprised if the total run count for this game gets into the high teens.

Wednesday: Miguel Gonzalez vs. Aaron Sanchez

What happened, Miguel? The season was going so well and then you gave up five runs in four innings to the Yankees. But hey, everyone gets a bad start, right? This will be Gonzalez's first start against the Blue Jays this season. And he only saw them three times last season, where he did well (2-0 with only three earned runs). Jose Bautista is only 4 for 16 against him and Edwin Encarnacion is only 3 for 22. Not bad.

Aaron Sanchez has struggled in his two starts against the Orioles this year. He's 1-1, but has only pitched 8.2 innings and given up five earned runs in that time. His ERA on the season is a decent 3.62, but has given up 25 walks and only gotten 24 strikeouts, leading to a 5.70 FIP. His problem has absolutely been against LHB, who sport a .953 OPS against him and have been responsible for all home runs he's given up. This may be a game where Pearce and Young need to take a seat for Snider, De Aza, and Flaherty.

Other Notes:

- How long can Jimmy Paredes keep up this nine game hitting streak?

- Jose Reyes, Dioner Navarro, and Michael Saunders have all gone on the DL since the Orioles last saw the Blue Jays

- The Blue Jays only have one guy with more than 50 PA (Josh Donaldson) hitting better than a .300 batting average, the Orioles have four.

- Is Jose Bautista having a power issue? He hasn't hit a home run in his last 10 games and he only has 10 HRs in 69 games at OPACY...that's about as well as he's hit them at Tropicana Field. Mostly he seems to like Toronto, Boston, and New York.

- No Drew Hutchinson this series! It's really sad how much that matters.

Prediction:

So I really whiffed the last time I did this, predicting they'd win three of four in New York and only getting one. I still think my reasoning was sound for that...I kind of expected them to lose to Pineda, but their other two losses were by one run each when neither Orioles pitcher had a good outing. In kind of the same thing here, I think the Orioles should beat up on all three of these starters, especially back at home, but things just haven't worked out that way so far. And even if they do, there's no reason to think the Blue Jays won't just beat up on the Orioles rotation. These will likely all be high scoring games...the previous six this year have averaged more than 13 total runs each. I think I'm going to stick with what I think makes sense and pick the Orioles to win 2 of 3. But when divisional opponents meet, can any outcome be surprising?